Advent in the domestic church is a mystery lying somewhere under our wet-boot-stained carpet, the cookie crumbs, and the fir needles. Here, the coming of Christ is hiding somewhere between the packages outside our door, the voice of Bing Crosby crooning away in our kitchen, and our family Nativity scene donkey that only has one ear (thanks to the toddler).
In the domestic church, Advent lies somewhere inside the Advent wreath we light, the O Come, O Come Emmanuel we softly sing, the hundred Christmas card envelopes we address, the small voices whining for one more piece of fudge, and the Masses we attend where we trundle into church with bulky coats, red noses and mismatched socks.
We know it–we feel it–we can taste it. The Advent mystery in our domestic church, lying somewhere under the scattered fragments of our family life, our good and our bad, our peace and our chaos, our tissues, lost sippy cups, cookie swaps and felt-and-glue crafts. Every year, we try to grab a larger handful of that hushed mystery. Something always slips through our fingers . . . because we’re finite.
How can we grasp it fully? we wonder. The Advent mystery?
Meanwhile, our culture is doing everything it can to make us forget there’s even such a thing as Advent. What’s the use of silence? What’s the use of all this Catholic pondering? You have no Advent needs. You have no spiritual cravings. Coming? What is coming? Everything you need is already here. No need to look to the heavens. Here are posters of every pop-culture star. Think of the children.
Our culture much prefers to show us endless commercials of a sweet-faced child dancing euphorically in front of a Christmas tree, her arms full of all that’s finite and transient.
Happy Holidays, they cheerily quip. We have the answer.
Tiredly, we turn off the commercial of the happy child dancing in the elaborately decorated home, her arms full of presents, and we look at our own domestic church with the piles of unfolded laundry, piles of dirty dishes, piles of our beloved but arguing children and/or siblings. The phone is ringing. The meat is thawing, incredibly slowly, for supper. The counter is cluttered again. Everything seems . . . undone. Unfinished. The Advent wreath is on the kitchen table, but it hasn’t been lit for several days. Our Advent hymns have been stuffed by anonymous little hands into a random bookshelf. Our home isn’t decorated . . . although Christmas lights have been glittering out of our neighbor’s front windows since before Thanksgiving.
Think of the children. It echoes hollowly in our ears.
As we’re out driving on cold, rainy roads, we see Christian bumper stickers boldly proclaiming, Keep Christ in Christmas. We smile, but it seems a little weak. Because isn’t it about keeping Christmas in Christ? The King of Heaven can never be evicted as much as we can, rather, remove ourselves, our feasts, and our hearts from Him. And we know this; we can feel it. That’s why, in our domestic church, we wait for Christ among our own messes while the world seems to have it all together in a glittering package of holiday happiness. We wait in our own undone-ness. We’re preparing, even though our preparations will always be faulty. There is gold in the dust. It’s part of the Advent mystery.
It’s part of that Advent mystery that quietly ponders the pregnancy of the Immaculate Virgin; the reality of God in the womb. Et homo factus est. The young Woman who would be crowned Queen of Heaven walked on dirt floors, shivered in the cold, and welcomed her Son amid the stench of animals–but her arms were full of the Infinite and Everlasting.
It’s part of that Advent mystery that thinks about the emptiness of the world; the longing, the aching, the darkened skies, the empty manger, the captive race. O come, O come, Emmanuel. The moaning of the earth.
And that’s what’s strange. Because that’s what we want in our domestic church, despite everything the culture flaunts–we want the Advent mystery. We love Christmas, of course. We cherish the spiritual and temporal beauty and nostalgia of it, and we love preparing our hearts and homes for it. We love the crumpled wrapping paper and the cold eggnog. (All right, maybe not the wrapping paper.)
But still . . . in our domestic church, in our hearts, we have this inexplicable desire for the cold cave;the smell of animal manure; the poverty. We want something bare and empty that only Christ can fill. We want something undone–something unfinished–something that’s anticipating something else. Someone else. We crave the faint flickering of the candle, not the blaze of Christmas lights.
We don’t have all the answers. We look to the heavens. We have Advent needs.
If we, as imperfect but intentional Catholic families, can see this, we’re all the closer to having touched more deeply upon the great Advent mystery. If we see a certain emptiness in the glittering TV commercials, and a certain fullness in the Advent messiness and bareness of our home–we’ve found another fleck of gold in our dust.
If we shun the culture and instead embrace the imperfect but striving-for-holiness reality within our own four walls; if we see the unborn Christ in the sticky cheek of our toddler, the broken donkey’s ear, and the AWOL Advent hymns . . . we have discovered something the world can never possess.
The Advent mystery is this: our homes are meant to bring forth the Savior. Our domestic church is meant to bring Him forth in our poverty; in our incompleteness; but also in our openness and purity of heart. Our domestic church is the cave to which the Virgin Mother is drawing near. Will she find a place?
A home absorbed by the world won’t give anything to her. Christmas will come and go, and the Advent mystery will have been lost for yet another year. Maybe the last year. Only God knows.
But a home filled with laundry piles, a donkey with one ear, messy but pure-hearted children, and an open-hearted family hungry for the Advent mystery?
She will come–and come quickly.
The culture will forever try to fill our arms with the finite and the transient. But if we, in our domestic church, persevere in our pursuit of the Advent mystery, the Virgin Mother will come quietly in the night. On Christmas, she will fill our family’s arms with her Infinite and Everlasting Son.
What better way to keep our Christmas in Christ?
Drop down the dew, ye heavens, and let the clouds rain down the Just One; let our homes open and bud forth the Savior.
Originally published at the author’s website.