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What Have You Come to See?

by Jeremy Hiers, O.S.A.

“What have you come to see?” is the question Jesus poses to the messengers of John the Baptist in Luke 7:24-30. This might be a good question to ask ourselves when we visit a manger scene this Christmas. When the baby is placed in the manger scene on Christmas, what will you go to see?

John the Baptist lived a simple, disciplined life in the wilderness. This helped him avoid being distracted by the things of the world. Consequently, he grew in his openness and desire for God.

In a recent Advent reflection, Bishop Barron reflected on the fact that the desert is a place of simplicity and poverty, a place where illusions die, where reality is faced openly and honestly without compromise.[1]

Since John was in the desert, he was able to become laser focused on seeking God through a life of prayer and a refusal to get caught up in the attractions of the world; its apathy and indifference to sin and injustice; and its tendency to overlook the good news Jesus came to give us.

John’s desert experience paved the way for God to reveal who Jesus was to Him.

What will God reveal to you when you approach the manger scene this Christmas? What will God reveal THROUGH you as you pave the way of the Lord through your own witness as a Christian?

One of the reasons I personally find so much fulfillment in prison ministry is because of the profound wisdom I discover when I am in there. Some of the most faithful Catholics I have ever met live in a 10 x 30 foot cell with little other than a Bible and some letters from spiritual companions. They have in many ways been invited to enter a desert experience through a simple lifestyle. Consequently they discover spiritual truths that often amaze me.

Those in prison often pave the way for my own journey to deeper discovery of the mysteries of our faith.

I think the imprisoned have much to teach us about “waiting” in Advent. They have much to teach us about how, in the words of Bishop Barron, we can find freedom from illusions about the good news of Christmas. The experience they gain through the “desert” of confinement enables them to teach me something about how to face with openness and honesty the reality of the Savior who comes to us in unexpected ways.

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To discover the Savior anew this Christmas, we too must accept the invitation to “wait well” in a way that enables us to return to the basics of the true meaning of Christmas and intensify our own longing for Him.

“Longing is always a prayer, even though the tongue is silent. If you are longing without interruption, then you are always praying. When does our prayer sleep? Only when our desire cools.”

Saint Augustine (Sermon 80, 7)

How might the longings of our heart and our deepest desires intensify our Advent prayer, “O Come, O Come, Emanuel!”

The world offers a lot to us this time of year. It falsely promises to fulfill our deepest needs, our longings and satisfy our perceived restlessness through products we can buy to entertain and comfort us; titles we can earn to make us feel important; love and acceptance through relationships we can enter into; and sense of belonging through group memberships we can join if we promise loyalty to them and their narratives (i.e. social media).

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Our true source of comfort, sense of importance, acceptance, unconditional love, and belonging is the Savior who has come 2,000 years ago and will come again.

What are you longing for and desiring today? Are you waiting for the Savior to fulfill those desires? Or are you trying to avoid the wait in the “desert” by seeking it elsewhere?

May the Savior who comes to us in the Eucharist give us the grace to wait well for the peace, comfort, and joy that await us this Christmas.

[1] Bishop Robert Barron, Advent Gospel Reflection (12/16/2021).

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