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Being the second oldest of seven children, when I was growing up I spent a lot of time chauffeuring my younger brothers and sisters to various places for various activities. Since one of my grandmothers also did not drive, I often would have to drive her to various events and activities as well. Now I wish I could tell you my motives for being the family chauffeur were completely altruistic. The reality was, though, that it was simply the price I had to pay if I wanted to use the family car on weekends.
Now to be quite honest, chauffeuring my brothers and sisters around was no picnic. They were almost never ready to leave when they were supposed to be. There were often unplanned stops and/or detours on the way to our destination, and they were seldom ready and waiting when I arrived to pick them up. Worse, though, was that their gratitude was almost non-existent. Occasionally, I’d get a quick thank you, but those times were rare.
My grandmother, on the other hand, was different. She never failed to be ready when I stopped to pick her up and, in fact, was almost always waiting for me. This same thing was true when I returned to take her home from wherever she had been. Even in cold weather she would be standing either outside or close by the door waiting and watching for me so that I wouldn’t be kept waiting. And she never failed to express her gratitude to me.
My grandmother was truly an Advent kind of person. She knew how to be prepared and how to wait expectantly. Even when her timetable had to be adjusted, she never complained. I think she realized, perhaps better than most, that time spent waiting does not have to be wasted time. It can be used for quiet reflection or interior preparation. Waiting can be a time when anticipation grows and expectations develop. Or, as in my grandmother’s case, it could also be used for a decade or two of the rosary for some of her errant grandchildren.
Now I mention this today because in these waning days of the season of Advent, while the world around us seems to speed up and become busier than ever, this season calls us to slow down and wait—to wait in joyful hope and faith filled expectation. And even though we know what it is we are waiting and preparing for, there is (or should be) a sense of newness and excitement about it. For the great miracle of the Incarnation did not happen once long ago only to exist now as a pleasant memory. Rather, it is an ongoing event. God continues to touch the world with God’s grace and God’s love. At times, though, we can become so busy that this most basic fact of our existence can recede into the background, or worse, be forgotten altogether.
As modern day believers, we need to be reminded on a regular basis that the Incarnation—the Word becoming flesh—is a wondrous and ongoing miracle. My prayer during these last days of Advent is that we might use these days as a time of remembering, a time of quiet preparation, a time of waiting in joyful expectation, as we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Savior, that we might welcome him with love and be open to his grace.
Every Christmas I marvel at God’s surprising choices. Who would have ever expected a young unwed girl to become the Mother of God? Who could have guessed that uneducated and poor shepherds would hear the songs of angels? Who would have imagined a poor infant born in a stable to be Emmanuel, God-with-us? And yet, it is precisely in the unexpected that God chose to be revealed to us.
This year as we approach Christmas I have been wondering how God might be present to us today, given everything that is happening in our world, our nation, our cities and our personal lives. I found comfort in a cherished song we sing during Lent: O Come, O Come Emmanuel. This song makes clear that the simple and profound answer we received 2000 years ago holds even today: Emmanuel, God is with us here and now, always and forever even and most especially in these most extra-ordinary times.
We are all wondering how we might celebrate Christmas this year. Surely it will not be the same as in years past. However we can and must make it meaningful and memorable, both in church and at home, because Christmas is such an important reminder of the fact that God is with us. That is the very essence of Christmas. It is the message we so desperately need to hear and embrace today.
Our goal, at The Basilica of Saint Mary is to make sure that those of you who will be with us for Mass in-person as well as those who join us via livestream will have a great Basilica Christmas experience. To that end we have creatively re-imagined our Christmas décor, our musical offerings and we came up with some new initiatives that hopefully will lift us up as we contemplate the promise of a better world brought to us by the Christ Child.
One of the new initiatives is our drive-by Blessing of the Bambinelli. As you prepare your nativity scene in your home, please join us for a drive by blessing of the Christ Child from your home nativity on Sunday, December 20 between 12:30-1:30pm. At that time you will also receive a Home Blessing Kit to be used on Epiphany for the traditional Epiphany blessing of your home.
This kit will include Holy water, a prayer and a piece of chalk. As part of the blessing you are to draw the following on the lintel above the main door into your home:
+ 20 C B M 21 + . C M B stands for Christus Benedicat Mansionem or May Christ Bless this Home. Of note is that the letters C M B are the initials of the traditional names of the Magi: Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar whose visit to the Baby Jesus we celebrate on epiphany.
I know this Christmas will not be the same, but I am convinced that we can still celebrate the mystery of the birth of Jesus in meaningful and moving ways. We, the staff at The Basilica of Saint Mary are committed do to our part to make it so.
May the Christ Child bring you many blessings, even and especially during these extra-ordinary times. And may you discover Emmanuel, God-with-us in the most unexpected places.