“Christmas isn’t Christmas till it happens in your heart” is definitely a lovely hymn and heart-warming enough to be included into any carollers’ Advent repertoire. But the hymn does not really tell the full story and it may even be heretical because it reduces Jesus to a tugging of one’s heartstrings as if Jesus is not real if you do not feel Him or “happens in your heart”. However, there is a grain of truth to the hymn if you believe in the 3 Comings of Christ.
Christ came first in history. About two millennia ago, He came. Incarnated and born of a Virgin in the Land of Judah. His coming has initiated the end times and we are waiting for His Second Coming. When He will come we know not of. It is a time of waiting and it is within this lacuna of knowledge, that the hymn makes sense. In fact, it was the great theologian St Bernard of Clairvaux who posited these 3 Comings as the past, the future and the present. Both the past and the future are visible—for He walked, talked, ate and rested amongst His people and when the time comes, He will return in His glory and majesty. The present is invisible and it lies between the first and the final Coming. He promised to come to those who do the will of the Father. “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him”.
It is in this sense that Christmas isn’t Christmas till it happens in your heart. The prospect of Christmas taking shape in our hearts gives meaning to the joyful hope of the first reading and the apocalyptic prediction of the Gospel. Jeremiah spoke of the days where the promise of God for a true King whose mantle is justice and integrity will be fulfilled. We know that to be the first coming when the virtuous shoot of David was born in a manger in Bethlehem. In the meantime, as we await the final coming, Jesus accompanies that hope with the exhortation of vigilance. Yes, the world may continue to party like nobody’s business but our waiting should be marked by a readiness to face the Lord either when we die or when He comes with the righteous to judge the world.
The vigilance is not a kind of passive waiting in which we are obsessed with signs and portents. It is too easy to be lost in the tsunamis, hurricanes, typhoons, pestilence, epidemics, earthquakes, war and violence trying to equate these phenomena as the approaching final days. Instead it is a vigilance of action in which we strive to do God’s will and as the 2nd Reading suggests, the will of God consists in the increased love even for our enemies and not restricted to just family or friends.
This attentiveness is patient. It shuns the quick fix solutions the world is consumed with. Maybe, the season of Advent should be the renamed as a celebration of the Adverts. Blurbs, commercials and endorsements abound where the waiting has been banished by the wanting—truly a season of wanting minus the waiting. We are forced into Christmas cheer that we do not realise that in waiting, there is suffering to be endured. For example, if you were to wait for your loved ones to be wheeled out of a major surgery, that waiting is excruciating. Or take another example of a 40 something years old falling in love with a 12-year old girl. Forcing himself onto her would not only violate her but also shows a total lack of reverence for the gift of love which must take time to develop. And in the time taken for love to develop, one’s selfish desires are incinerated in the furnace of purification. In the end, when longing is purged of lust, what remains is a love which desires the good of the other. That is how sacrificial true love is. We know this to be true, that in all things good, there is always a price to be paid for them.
Unfortunately, this sort of waiting and vigilance is unacceptable to many. Ironically, Advent has become a season of feasting so much so that by Christmas, many are dying to fast due to excessiveness. The fasting followed by the feasting is now inverted as the feasting followed by the fasting (and New Year resolution to join a fitness centre). If the hymn is to come true for us, that Christmas should happen in our hearts, then, take Advent for what it is meant to be—a time of waiting—a time to purify one’s love. A time of slowing down so that God can break through our defences. Waiting is hard because we have been socialised by instant gratification where everything—information, mental stimulation, recreation and even relationships must submit to the criterion of immediacy. But, patient waiting delays our gratification and puts life into perspective. Sometimes that is the only way things can develop—like a foetus in a womb whose birth cannot be rushed.
Therefore, instead of thinking of what to buy for Christmas, this Advent, give your time and presence to your family and friends. It is so much harder to be present than to give a present. For your enemies, take time to pray for them, asking that God bless them, even if they have been mean. You may not know it, blessing our enemies is the greatest gift we can present ourselves because the act of blessing smothers the hate that will eventually choke us. Then, slowly but surely, Jesus is born in our hearts so that either at our death or at His Final Coming, we dare stand with our heads held high unafraid of His judgement because He is already living in us and we in Him.