As I raced through Advent, I was missing the point. Hurrying to accomplish, scrambling to tick items off the list, racing everywhere, rushing to get more stuff. It all reveals our modern focus has become terribly askew. What are we preparing for? We need Advent to help straighten the way, to teach us to slow down and savor the coming of Christmas.
NASHVILLE, TN (Catholic Online) - "Prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight in the desert a highway for God. Every valley must be filled in; every mountain and hill leveled."
I am a legend. Of sorts. My notoriety as a motor vehicle operator is a well-acknowledged fact even to my neighbors, friends and extended family. Five years ago I shocked them all when I blew up my husband's cherished '78 4×4, nicknamed "The Beast." I tried to start it after he had removed the carburetor (who knew?!) on the windiest day on record for years.
Sooner than the time it took to open the hood, it was engulfed in flames high enough to be seen ten miles away, and required several bemused firemen and their screaming trucks to put it out. My hand-held fire extinguisher was utterly impotent, and I lost an eyebrow.
Although I was not the first to do so, a riding lawn mower with a sticky gear shift somehow landed upside down at the bottom of our creek while under my control. Thinking it was in reverse, I gunned the accelerator to back away from the edge of a hill and found myself soaring over the precipice while negotiating a graceless leap off the back of the mower.
While I managed to avoid being pinned to the creek bed, I limped home dripping algae and stinking fish water with a crayfish clinging to my shirt tail. Really.
According to my three-year-old son, "policemen give Mama mail," and last summer my eleven-year-old asked my father, a retired state patrolman, why he stopped at the stop sign at the end of our road since his mother never does. It is for these reasons I was the butt of all the hilarity at our last family gathering.
I suppose my husband and oldest son were looking for moral support as they related my foibles in great comedic detail, and insisted they have worn out the grip handles on the door frame of my car. We laughed till we cried, because everyone knows I get it from my mother, who gets it from hers!
I recently backed over a boat that had been surreptitiously parked directly behind my car. It wasn't until my husband returned home from a fishing trip that I wondered if the leak that almost sunk his boat was my fault. When we first moved to the country, I got three speeding tickets in one year, but only because the highway is like an interstate out here.
Missing the Point
Because I am a firm believer in justice, I have never tried to get out of receiving a speeding ticket, and have, therefore, been to traffic school four times for tickets in two counties and two cities. My father was a career state patrolman, and I know exactly how many miles an hour over the speed limit I can drive without being ticketed, and many other very useful items of safety trivia.
This makes my record all the more surprising, and in response, I resorted to setting my cruise control on the highway and driving to town exclusively on back roads whenever I can.
So you can imagine my bewilderment when, recently, I found myself signing another little piece of mail pushed through the car window. While I prayed for another warning, I thanked God that my oldest son was not in the car to tell on me when I got home, but God's will was clear through a city cop hiding behind the rise of a hill and holding a hand-held radar detector on a lightly traveled back road. It is Advent, after all.
How many times has God attempted to correct this undisciplined and even dangerous behavior in my life? I know the answer is many times - many tickets, many warnings, many trips to traffic school that defrayed ballooning insurance rates, many jokes and sideways glances regarding my driving. As I drove away from the scene of the crime, the Lord asked me if something awful would have to happen before I finally took this issue seriously.
Haste implies confusion, lack of order, and impatience of slow growth, doesn't it? It mistakes ambition for inspiration. Ever seeking to substitute energy for a clearly defined plan, hurry never realizes that slow, careful foundation work is the quickest in the end. Instead, it throws truth, thoroughness, poise and generosity to the sacrificial winds. If we allow it, Advent will smooth the rough, pitted paths of urgency and over-commitment into peace and rest.
The Royal Highway of Holiness
A season of waiting, reflection, and repentance, Advent is a deliberate, dawdling month when the Scriptures prescribe filling in the valleys and leveling the mountains of our lives to make the way easier for the certain coming of the Savior. With attention toward avoiding steep pitches, Advent must tunnel through sin and level out valleys of despair. Hurry, the root of my driving sin, must be bulldozed. Especially now, when I am caught in the whirlwind of Christmas preparation.
Advent is an object lesson of perfect law, perfect plan, perfect order, and perfect method. It is a divine protest against hurry, against doing over being, against the modern myopic focus on producing and getting things. It bridges our deep fear that we won't accomplish much, and our despair when we no longer can. It straightens the winding road of too little prayer, and too much stuff to do.
Advent teaches us to wait. Contemplate. Repent. Savor. It illustrates that everything great in life is the product of slow growth. The greater, higher, and nobler the work, the slower is its growth, and the surer its lasting success.
Advent teaches us to accept slow growth, if it must be slow, and to know the results must come, just as we accept the long, lonely hours of Advent night with absolute assurance that the burden of patience must bring the dawn of salvation. This is hope, and it is the liturgy of the Church to all of us for today, this week, right now. Where has God repeatedly attempted to speak to you about something you consider trivial?
What crooked habit do you cherish that cries out for straightening? What small matter in your life has become a huge obstacle to Christ's coming to you this Christmas? What sin are you laughing off as a quirk of your personality that needs to be bulldozed? Shouldn't the valley of Christmas depression be filled in?
"Prepare ye the way of the Lord" and pray for a new experience of His coming. For the peace, rest and joy of Christmas travels one way - through the solitary Royal Highway of Advent Holiness.
Sonja Corbitt is a contributing writer for Catholic Online - sonjacorbitt(at)pursuingthesummit.com.
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