December 19, 2023 // Perspective

It’s Christmas Already!?

If it seems like this is the shortest Advent ever, it’s not just you. It really is. In fact, the fourth and final week of Advent this year is smashed into exactly one day – December 24. Because Christmas falls on a Monday this year, the liturgical calendar has given us the shortest possible Advent of just 22 days. And, yes, you need to go to Mass twice to fulfill both your Sunday obligation and your Christmas obligation. There are no liturgical buy-one, get-one-free deals on grace!

Thinking back to childhood, it seemed like Christmas would never come. The anticipation of waking up on Christmas morning to find a treasure trove of presents under the tree seemed to be a far off and remote idea. And, yet, year by year, I have found the inverse to be more and more true. It now seems that Christmas comes sooner and sooner every year. There was once a wise older gentleman who told me that a week after Labor Day is Halloween. The week after that is Thanksgiving, and the next week is Christmas. Nine months later would then be summer. I’m not sure his math adds up in terms of months and days, but the sentiment certainly rings true!

And maybe on a spiritual level, that is how this Advent feels. If you blinked, it might feel like Thanksgiving was just yesterday. Even if your presents didn’t make it on time, and even if you didn’t finish writing all your Christmas cards or making all your Christmas cookies, I think there is still some benefit to our unusual liturgical calendar this year. It is a stark reminder that our entire lives are truly an Advent. It reminds us that Christ will come to meet all of us at the end of our days, whether we are ready or not.

The fact is, all of us will go to meet the Lord with checklists unfinished and goodbyes left unsaid. Even for those who are most prepared, there could always be more that could have been done. In contrast, the example of the Blessed Mother in the Gospel for the Fourth Sunday of Advent gives us an insight for how to best prepare for the Lord.

In the scene of the Annunciation, when Gabriel proclaims to Our Lady that she is to become the mother of God, the Church Fathers highlight that before Mary conceived the Christ Child in her womb, she had conceived Him in her heart. In other words, the Eternal Word took on Mary’s heart before He took on Mary’s flesh. When she uttered her fiat by saying, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord, may it be done unto me according to your word,” she was revealing what had already taken place in her Immaculate Heart – namely, that she had already been completely consumed by the Eternal Word of God in her mind and in her will.

That same Eternal Word that took on flesh in Mary’s womb, and the same Holy Spirit that overshadowed her are not simply far-off and remote ideas like Christmas morning was when I was a child. Instead, they are ever-present manifestations that our God is truly Emmanuel – God with us! The same God who came in the flesh on that first Christmas morning in Bethlehem is the same God who is present in the Eucharist when we go to our own local parish for Mass or adoration. Likewise, the same Word which was conceived in the heart and mind of Our Lady is the same Word who is present to us when we open the Scriptures and hear them proclaimed.

So, there’s no need to worry about making sure everything is “done” before we can enjoy our celebration of Christmas. After all, Christmas is the center of our lives. It’s not simply a day or a week or a season. It’s a Person. Jesus Christ is Emmanuel – God with us. He is the same God present in a manger who is also present to us now, and who we will also meet in eternity. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (cf. Heb 13:8). For that, we can all have a merry Christmas!

Father Brian Isenbarger is Parochial Vicar at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Fort Wayne.

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