An Often-Neglected Gift
(Jer.33:14-16; Thess.3:12-4:2; Lk.21:25-28, 34-36)
Every year, in the weeks before Christmas, most of us spend time thinking about gifts – gifts for the people we love and care for.
Every year, however, there’s one gift that too many of us neglect in the run-up to Christmas. It’s the Season of Advent. It only lasts for four Sundays, it starts today, and it really is a gift to each of us from Jesus and his Church.
Advent is a remarkable gift. It marks the beginning of a brand-new liturgical year, and the start of a fresh new journey as we set out once again to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.
As we travel together over the next twelve months, we’ll be reliving Jesus’ story, from his birth and early life, to his public ministry, his passion, death and resurrection, and his Ascension into heaven. And along the way, we’ll be listening to his teachings, we’ll be hearing the personal messages he has for us, and we’ll be his witnesses as he sends his Holy Spirit into the world.
Starting a new journey can be a wonderful thing, but to gain the most benefit we must fully engage our hearts and minds, and allow ourselves to embrace new stories and new ways of living.
The Jewish philosopher Martin Buber used to say that all journeys have secret destinations of which the traveller is unaware. But before we can reach these secret destinations, we must let go of our old ways of seeing and be prepared to do new things.
Have you heard the folktale of a woman named Bilfina? The Three Wise Men and their camels pass by her house while she is busy cleaning inside. They invite her to join with them as they journey to Jesus in Bethlehem.
Bilfina, the housewife, scrubbing her pane
Saw three old sages ride down the lane,
Saw three grey travellers pass by her door –
Gaspar, Balthazar and Melchior.
‘Where journey you, sirs?’ she asked of them.
Balthazar answered, ‘To Bethlehem,
For we have news of a marvelous thing,
Born in a stable is Christ the King’.
‘Give Him my welcome!’ she said,
Then Gaspar smiled,
‘Come with us, mistress, to greet the child’.
‘Oh, happily, happily would I fare, she said
Were my dusting done and I’d polished the stair.’
….. Old Melchior leaned on his saddle horn,
‘Then send but a gift to the small Newborn.’
‘Oh, gladly, gladly, I’d send him one,
Were the kitchen swept
and my weaving done.
As soon as I’ve baked my bread,
I’ll fetch him a pillow for his head,
And a blanket too,’ Bilfina said.
‘When the rooms are aired and the linen dry,
I’ll look at the Babe,’ she said,
….. But the three rode by.
She worked for a day, and a night and a day,
Then gifts in her hands, she went on her way.
But she never found where the Christ child lay.
And she still wanders at Christmastide,
….. Houseless, whose house was all her pride.
Whose heart was tardy, whose gifts were late;
….. She wanders and knocks at every gate.
Crying, ‘Good people, the bells begin!
Put off your toiling and let love in!’
Yes, put off your toiling and let love in.
Some of us are so busy; we’re so stuck in our day-to-day routines, that we often miss the important things when they come our way. And then, when we do notice them, sometimes it’s too late.
Today, the gift of Advent is being offered to you personally. Accept it. Slow down a while, and perhaps even stop altogether. Take time to listen, to reflect, to pray and to trust Jesus, for he’s reaching out to you right now.
It is important for us to prepare our hearts and homes for the coming of Jesus at Christmas. But it’s also essential that we prepare our souls for when he comes again – at the end of our lives and at the end of all time. Let’s not make Bilfina’s mistake. Let’s journey to Jesus before it’s too late.
So, put off your toiling, and let love in.
Put off your toiling, and let joy and wisdom in.
Put off your toiling, and accept the wonderful gift of Advent.