It's rather beautiful seeing all four candles lit on the Advent wreath.
It's also rather terrifying: there's only a few days left!
Thursday is generally my day off each week,
and this past Thursday was earmarked for Christmas shopping.
I put more than 200 miles on the car making my rounds,
and found myself on many a wild goose chase:
items out of stock, store staffers nowhere to be found,
stores closed, one store gone right out of business.
Many of the other folks I encountered—
whether they were employees or customers—
looked like they were enjoying themselves
just about as much as I was.
As my baby sister sarcastically put it in an email the other day,
Christmas shopping is “essentially
a winter wonderland of love, peace, and joy!”
When I pulled back into Malone a little after 9 o’clock that night,
I wasn’t exactly brimming with Christmas cheer;
I was exhausted…and rapidly approaching cranky.
So much to do…so little time to do it!
“Mary set out and traveled…in haste…”
As this Sunday we hear again the story of the Visitation,
it can seem that even our Blessed Mother
has been caught up in the pre-holiday rush!
But Mary’s not running off to the mall in suburban Nazareth
to shop for the nursery or register in advance of a baby shower.
Many have assumed that her quick action
is an indicator of her abundant charity—
although pregnant herself, rushing to help her aged cousin
who’s now quite astonishingly with child…
…but if that were solely the case,
Mary would have probably stayed put
until little John the Baptist was actually born,
and not returned home a whole month early (Lk 1:56).
So…why the rush?
When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary
and announced to her
that she would bear the Only Begotten Son of God,
the good news came with the promise of a miraculous sign:
that Elizabeth, even though long barren, was now pregnant, too.
The sign was Mary’s invitation to go—
not so much to verify the Lord’s word
as to experience firsthand
that, “nothing,” in fact, “will be impossible for God” (Lk 1:37)
And so, much like a band of shepherds
will also later do at the prompting of angels,
Mary hastens to see the sign—
a swift and determined movement of her heart
even more than of her feet along the roads of Judah.
In my experience, anyway,
all the rushing about at this time of year
tends to cause me to miss out—
to race right by the people and things that ought to matter most:
the family and friends for whom I’m shopping;
God’s sacred, saving purpose
which set this frenzy in motion in the first place.
In our haste to merrily mark the Savior’s birth,
we’re moving so fast that we can fail to see and recognize his face.
We need to learn and relearn from Mary’s urgency,
which isn’t motivated by societal or sentimental expectations,
but by the fervor and zeal, by the joy and enthusiasm of her faith.
Maybe we need to set down our shopping bags for a spell
so that our hearts, like Mary’s, can race to see the signs
the Lord’s performing right here among us
and get as close as possible to their heavenly source.
May these last few days of Advent be for us
about more than simply hurrying to meet a December 25th deadline.
Let our haste—now and always—
be to see the signs of where and how
the Lord is still working wonders in our lives.