Preparing the way

For most people -- even those who don't particularly believe in much of anything -- the Christmas season is "magical." Whether it's dancing sugarplums, elves, a nutcracker prince, or just a few inches of snow, humanity on the whole is anything but "humbug." Perhaps that's because we all need a little light during the darkest days of the year. Perhaps too, our deepest selves long for the distances between us to be overcome by something -- or better yet, by someone.

John the Baptist was the forerunner of Christ, the "voice of one crying out in the wilderness, 'Prepare the way of the Lord.'" But John himself was only part of the preparations God had made.

One of the things about Christmas that amazes me most is how much and how long God prepared for it. His Advent did not last for four weeks, nine months or a year, but for every day since that very first sin. When humanity fell, God's response was a promise. And when humanity kept falling, God kept moving human history closer to the fulfillment of that promise. From the birth of Isaac, to the mercy he showed the sons of Jacob; from the day the children of Israel left Egypt to the day they entered the land God had pledged to Abraham; from the first king to the Second Temple; in faithfulness and in exile; prophet after priest after king in long succession; God has prepared the way of salvation. He did so by embracing us more completely; more, that is, until his embrace became eternal in the mystery of the Incarnation.

The most shining preparation God made for our salvation is the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Because he created her to become the mother of his son, God preserved her from sin from the moment of her conception. In the Blessed Virgin, God prepared the entire human race for salvation. Even more, in the Mother of God we see how the human race can serve God's plan of salvation. In Mary, God tips his hand, as it were, and shows us where his way -- the one he has prepared for all of us -- leads.

For those of us who believe in the God whose Christmas this is, these days are more mystical than magical. For beyond all the sights and sounds of the holidays, lies the reality of a God who has made himself not only visible, but intimate. The God of Christmas is different from every other. This God comes to us because he wants to be with us. Rather than overwhelming us with his glory, he chooses to become one with us by becoming one of us. Wrapped in swaddling clothes, this is the same God who created heaven and earth and all the intervening universe. This child, who cries in the night, is the same Father who hears the cry of every human soul.

There are times in our lives when the path before us seems to end, or the way we were so sure of suddenly becomes strange and uncertain. There are turns of events that channel us in directions we would not have sought ourselves, that take us through places we never knew about or chose. But God does lead us, if we follow him. And if we do, he will bring us to the manger, to the family, to the river, and to the desert. He will lead us to a life that is both hidden and public; one that heals, teaches and forgives; one that lays itself down for a friend. As we again prepare ourselves to welcome him, we are likely to learn that God does take care of us, and has already prepared every good work he intends for us to walk in.

Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an inspirational author, speaker, musician and serves as an Associate Children's Editor at Pauline Books and Media.