By Fr. Paul Clark
This past week I found myself shopping for chicken soup for a certain sick pastor… I guess I never realized how many options there are for canned soup. I went directly to the section of the aisle with the Campbell display and searched for soups of various chicken flavors amid the overwhelming amount of Campbell and store-brand options that were piled in front of me. After I filled the top part of my cart with homestyle chicken and noodle, healthy option chicken and noodle, chicken and rice, chicken and stars, and even a can of soup where the noodles are shaped like characters from the movie Frozen, I started to leave the aisle and realized that the options for soup actually continue past the Campbell/generic label section. What I thought was just the baked beans section was actually Progresso and a whole bunch of other hearty soup options. Now I am not saying that Campbell’s Chicken Noodle is a lesser soup…but I was definitely limiting the scope of what was available. What if God is desiring to give me a hearty reality, full of flavor and meat and vegetables, and I am focusing on chicken broth with a few noodles and a couple small chunks of processed meat? What if the great things he has planned for me just look like baked beans out the corner of my eye? What do I need to do to step back and recognize the magnitude of God’s desires for me?
This may be a jump, but this is why I love the Advent season. It is a time that is meant to stretch us and prepare us – to widen our hearts to receive more fully the promise; to look at our experiences from a bigger perspective; to have our expectations blown out of the water! The Christmas Story is so unexpected, it makes sense that we would need to prepare. It reveals things about our God and the way he works, how his plans are so much bigger than what we can plan for ourselves. Look up! Look around! Bethlehem, shepherds, a manger? This was so unexpected, but so perfect. A baby would free us, not a warrior? The story of salvation is a lot to take in, because honestly, it is not how we as humans would plan it. Yet, if we allow ourselves the time to observe the many aspects of it and ponder the mystery of how it came to be, we come to know the greatness of our God more fully and the beauty of his desires for humanity. As we try to control and plan our own lives, how often would we actually be better off abandoning ourselves to God’s plan for us…allowing him to provide and guide us in ways that may be a little unexpected for us?
This season is given to us to widen our perspective and see how the Incarnation is not only a single moment in history, but is still remains a magnificent reality with eternal fruits experienced daily by God’s sons and daughters. Our preparation for Christmas then becomes, not only for the celebration of the birth of Christ, but also a preparation for the Second Coming of Christ and every moment in between that he is made present in our lives.
The time we put into Advent, into intentionally widening our hearts and minds to the mystery, directly relates to our ability to enter into the Christmas Season and receive the great promises from our God. Don’t settle this Advent season, expect more – expect to grow and be transformed. Let’s allow the mystery to stretch us, so that we may have the capacity to receive more than we were planning.