In the Office of Readings of Wednesday in the First Week of Advent, we read St. Bernard Abbot’s reflection on the “Three Advents”.
He says that “the coming of the Lord is threefold: the third coming is between the other two and it is not visible in the way they are. At his first coming the Lord was seen on earth and lived among men, who saw Him and hated Him. At his last coming All flesh shall see the salvation of our God, and They shall look on him who they have pierced. (Sermo 5, in Adventu Domini)”
The holy abbot further describes the intermediary Advent: “In the middle, the hidden coming, only the chosen see Him, and they see Him within themselves; and so their souls are saved. (…)
The middle coming is like a road that leads from the first coming to the last. At the first [Advent], Christ was our redemption; at the last, He will become manifest as our life; but in the middle way He is our rest and consolation. (Ibid.)”
St. Bernard’s reminds us that Advent is not just one passive annual waiting room. Instead, he urges every Christian to be always ‘spiritually awake’ in order to host the ‘daily arrival of Jesus’ in his soul. If our Lord visits us to give Himself to us as a daily gift, then we must in turn strive to return His graceful presence in our hearts.
Close friends often exchange simple but unique tokens when they meet. When our Lord gifted Himself to us, He could not but choose ‘best wrapper’ for the gift of His divinity. This ‘wrapper’ was His sacred humanity. By ‘wrapper’ we are referring to the ‘fallen and frail condition of human nature’ which God chose to assume. The marvelous things here is that Jesus who is the ‘gift’ became the ‘wrapper’ and in this way He upgraded human nature and made it possible for us to embrace divine nature.
In the same way that our Lord prepared Himself to be born into our world, like a seed to divinize man and all created reality, we must also learn how to prepare ourselves constantly by wrapping ourselves as daily gifts for God and our neighbor.
When it comes to wrapping gifts, we are not referring to the detached and mechanical task of covering objects for no one in particular. When giving authentic gifts, one considers to some extent that the ‘wrapper’ is part of the gift.
In the first place, when we give any gift to someone special, we make the sacrifice of trying to find something valuable. The gift seems to carry a part of us because it demonstrates how much we know the other and what he would be happy to receive.
Second, we spend time and resources to make or purchase the gift. Hand-made gifts are often the most precious expressions of our self-giving. What counts, more than the price of a gift, is our thoughtfulness, concern over some material detail in the gift and the timeliness of giving the gift.
Finally, when we have considered the right gift, acquired or made it, then we have to wrap it. A good wrapper isn’t always something we buy. Some are creative enough to bring out very beautiful wrapping from the most unsuspecting materials (i.e. paper bags, foil, cardboard or even leaves or tree barks). Behind this creativity one discerns the effort to give the wrapper added value or meaning.
Spiritually speaking, man is not capable of giving any gift –materially or spiritually– to God from Whom everything comes from. St. Paul reminds us: What have you that you have not received?
Thus, even this life is worth infinitely nothing to offer to God, unless God Himself has not mercifully revealed that He is pleased even with our slightest effort to lift up the most insignificant experiences to Him as daily gifts.
Given this wonderful portal of divine mercy that our Father opens for us, we then take the final step of wrapping the gift of ourselves to God. And our unique spiritual wrapper, covering us both within and without, is composed of our life of prayer, daily sacrifices, the gems of our virtues (unfolded through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy) and our work according to our state in life.
Advent is the ripe time for us to prepare wrapping ourselves for God and others. This season fills us with a childlike anticipation to give our Lord a daily surprise. In reality, however, it is God who is like an excited child eager to one day open the gift of our lives in Heaven.
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