Last weekend I went home to Cincinnati for a visit and some members of the family wanted to surprise my 7 year old niece and 3 year old nephew with some early Christmas gifts.
When the arrival of the gifts were announced, my niece and nephew immediately dropped what they were doing and both ran with haste and enthusiasm to the dining room where the gifts were located.
Before we could even pull out our cameras to take pictures of them opening the gifts, they had already ripped the gifts open and began playing with their new toys.
Within 20 minutes they were bored.
The gifts had failed to fully satisfy. They brought only 20 minutes of pleasure. Though with the way my niece and nephew ran towards the gifts, you would have thought they were opening something that would bring eternal enjoyment!
Both our reading from Genesis (Genesis 3:9-20) and our Gospel (Luke 1:26-38) on this Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception are about gifts from God. Yet the difference between the two could not be more stark.
Not all of the beauty and richness of the Garden of Eden could satisfy Adam and Eve, they wanted more. Mary, on the other hand, simply rejoices in what she has been given, though she was given a gift she could not yet fully understand at the time.
Adam and Eve are expelled from the gift of the Garden of Eden they had been given. Mary becomes the handmaid of the Lord (Luke 1:38).
The story of Genesis (Genesis 3:9-20) tells a story of disappointment due to failed expectations and the shame and fear that came as a result. The Gospel tells a story of hope. Both Eve and Mary had been given a gift from God. Eve (and Adam) were not able to trust God with their future as they sought more, the forbidden fruit. Mary trusted.
Adam and Eve were ready to place all their hope in seeking more gifts. Alternatively, Mary allowed the Lord to work through her with the gift of hope she had already been given, though she didn’t fully understand it (Luke 1:34).
Mary’s yes changed the entire trajectory of her life and the lives of all of us as it paved the way for the greatest gift of all, the birth of the Savior.
Are we using this time of Advent to run towards this gift, as Mary did, with the enthusiasm that my niece and nephew displayed? Or are we, like Adam and Eve, reaching for other gifts along the way and succumbing to the false hope that they alone will satisfy?
We, like any child, spend our lives in a restless search for something more than we have. This is because, as Saint Augustine teaches, have been made for God alone; and our hearts naturally remain restless until we rest with God for all eternity.
“You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”Saint Augustine (The Confessions, I, 1).
Yet, there is one destination for our Advent journey. That is the manger scene where we will celebrate the arrival of the Savior. It is our restlessness for something more than what we see that causes us, like my niece and nephew, to run towards it.
However, there is much to distract us on our way.
Shopping, the false promise of more given to us in advertising, disturbing news on the TV, hobbies that demand much of our time, unhealthy habits, etc.
Sometimes like Mary we may not fully understand the gift of hope we have been given in the birth of the Savior. We may not fully understand this gift in the face of temptation, suffering, confusion or other circumstances that are present in our world. We, like Mary, may question, “how can this be” (Like 1:34) with this or that circumstance. How do we have hope when so many of my prayers have not been answered the way that I had hoped? How do we have hope when so many are suffering?
Can we, like Mary, trust in the promise that “all things are possible with God” (Luke 1:37)?
Christ has come and Christ will come again. He comes to us most especially in the Eucharist, just as He promised. May the Eucharist we receive help us refocus on the true gift we have been given. May it help us focus on the gift of the promise that no matter what is happening in the world, Christ has come and Christ will come again. May the Eucharist give us strength to trust like Mary and say, “no matter what happens on the journey, may it be done unto me according to God’s Word” (Luke 1:38) because we know the tremendous gift that awaits us.
“O incredible kindness and mercy! He was the only Son, but he did not want to remain alone. In order that men might be born of God, God was first born of men. He had to seek on early only a mother, since the Father he already had in heaven. Begotten O God is he through whom we were created; born of a woman is he through whom we are to be recreated. The Word first wished to be born of man, so that you might be assured of being born of God.”