One of the great Advent mysteries is the call to give ourselves as Our Lady did. Most of us are quite willing to give ourselves for a little while. We don’t mind doing good works for a little while. We don’t mind doing this, that and the other thing, whatever might help our neighbor at a minimal cost to ourselves—for a little while. But that doesn’t work out. It doesn’t work out at all. Not when you consider the Child in the manger. For it is there that you see the utter poverty of Jesus Christ, the gift of Jesus Christ to us as a little child. When we contemplate God’s total gift of himself in the Incarnation, the idea of “giving a little” is pretty meaningless. What we really have to do is to surrender. This call is for all of us. It makes no difference whether you are a parent, a student, a single person, a priest or a nun. If you are a baptized person, you owe it to that Child who was born in total poverty to embrace total poverty. And this total poverty comes from inside.
If you are the provider of a family, it is obvious that you cannot just give away the money that should go for the needs of your children. There are certain limits to what you can do, because your first responsibility, to which God has called you, is to be a protector, a provider. But even if you can’t give away your money, you can give yourself. Now, that is very difficult. What we have here is the encounter between two mysteries. There is a little Child, God, who has stripped himself of everything to become one of us. There is a human being, who wants to give himself totally to the Other. These two mysteries meet. The human being allows the Child to enter his heart and to make a manger there. In this human heart, the Child will grow to manhood. Whoever gives of himself in this way will become the Child. He will grow and mature and become an icon of Christ.
This desire to give oneself is a kind of restlessness within the heart, like waves beating upon the shore. The man or woman says, “I cannot be at peace unless I really surrender myself to God.” In the words of St. Augustine, “You have made me for yourself, O Lord, and I cannot rest until I rest in thee.” Without changing one’s life outwardly, without a visible shift in vocation, a person’s inward life changes. The heart cries out, “I want to be one with God.” It is said that whoever desires God possesses God already. How much more is this true of a person who really wants to give totally of himself!
It is very difficult for me to explain what this giving of oneself means. It is a sort of listening from one’s heart to the heart of others, to the needs of others, wherever they may be. It is a human heart that understands what has to be done for others. It is a beautiful quality and it is rare.
In the West we approach Christmas sentimentally. We spend a great amount of effort and money on gifts for those we love. We may make donations to charitable organizations in a spirit of good will and generosity. But what happens in January, February and March? We have forgotten by then to listen to the needs of others.
This listening should begin in your own family. Entering the mystery of God’s self-surrender in the Incarnation means that you must enter into a profound surrender to your neighbor, in a way that never asks questions but is always ready and available. This is true Christian witnessing. It’s not enough to stand at the street corner and proclaim that you’re a Christian. Only if you act as a Christian will people follow you. In order to know exactly how to act, you will need help. In order to learn what has to be done and how to do it the greatest help is prayer. If you pray, you will be given the gift of discernment. You will also receive the gift of courage.
The essence of Advent and Christmas is that God gives himself to us without a backward glance, as it were. He knew the whole scenario from the beginning. He knew he was going to be crucified, yet he came to us as a Child. That is total surrender, total giving. God let himself be cared for by a woman. He let himself be manipulated by human beings. This is another mystery for us to contemplate. Have you ever made the connection between the Child in the manger and the Blessed Sacrament in the hands of a priest? In the Blessed Sacrament, God can be carried wherever man wants to carry him and given wherever man gives him, just like a child. Advent and Christmas are a time of great mystery. Think of it with prayer, dearly beloved, because prayer is the key to opening the door of these mysteries. It is a door worth opening.