Advent Reflection by Father Wilfred Labbe

My father’s job required him to travel often and sometimes for long periods of time. It was not uncommon for him to be away for two or three months. During these times, my mother was home alone to tend to everything and most especially to parent five children. I think she had the upper hand until we all became teenagers and thought we ruled the roost. As I remember it, it was not uncommon for my mother, after putting up with us know-it-all teenagers, to lament how she wished she was in the desert. Of course, this made no sense to us as if she were in the desert who would cook for us and clean up after us…

As I grew older, I came to realize that my mother’s desire for the desert was all about finding some peace and quiet in her otherwise chaotic world. She longed for the peace that the desert isolation offers. She longed to be surrounded by order rather than the chaos of teenagers. She longed to be able to contemplate, to meditate, and to rejuvenate. For her, the image of the quiet desert brought her comfort and the opportunity to energize so that she could face her four teenagers and her one “angel” who would eventually become a priest.

As we once again enter the season of Advent, we are being called into the desert. Just when the secular world is shouting that now is the time to get busy, we followers of Jesus Christ are being reminded that our preparation for the Christmas season is not a time for busyness and completion of tasks. Instead, we encounter the whispered invitation to come out into the desert to encounter the holy, the extraordinary, and to prepare our hearts, minds, and souls to celebrate the beginning of our salvation. We are beckoned into the desert so that in the light of Christ, in the silence of our surroundings, in the simplicity of the environment we can learn again what it means to be beloved children of God.

As much as my mother may have longed for the peace of the desert, in truth it is mostly a harsh environment. Searing heat during the day, frigid nights, deadly creatures, lack of water are but a few of the hardships that one will face in the desert. It is also, because a lack of landmarks and many reasons, easy to lose one’s way in the desert. These may be just a few of the reasons that, other than mothers of teenagers, I don’t often hear people longing to escape to the desert.

Our Advent desert experience comes with its own set of challenges. We can be tempted to just go along to get along, to adopt the busyness of the season. We can crank up the Christmas tunes, attend all the parties, and shop ‘til we drop. Because the desert experience is not as exciting as the secular season of preparation, we can just avoid the season of Advent all together. The problem with this is that Christmas is reduced to a day that we have prepared for and once it is over, the tree can go on the curb, the lights can be extinguished, and gifts exchanged, returned, or re-gifted.

We are called into the Advent desert to be reminded that Christmas is not a day but a season. Our time in the Advent desert allows us to be cleansed by the searing heat of God’s mercy. In this journey we deliberately experience the dark cold night so that we know the light of Christ always present in our lives. We allow ourselves to thirst for the gifts that become ours when God takes on our flesh and becomes one with us. Our Advent desert experience is the opportunity for us to become familiar with and distance ourselves from the creatures, ideas, and attitudes that can destroy our faith and kill our souls.

The bottom line is that Advent is a season of preparation. We prepare our hearts, our minds, our souls to welcome God among us. It is a season that calls us to withdraw from the routines of our lives, intentionally and deliberately to ready our very selves for the coming of the Messiah. It is a penitential season that calls us to clean our souls so that they are ready to welcome the Savior of the world. We should not rush through Advent. Instead, we should immerse ourselves in the desert beauty and harshness. In this environment, we can be cleansed, get to know ourselves better, and reprioritize our desires as we prepare for Jesus to enter our very lives in an intimate and miraculous way. In the end, the desert is not just a getaway for overwhelmed mothers of teenagers, it is also a place where our restless hearts find the One who calms all restlessness.

Father Wilfred Labbe is pastor of St. Matthew Parish in Limerick and St. Thérèse of Lisieux Parish in Sanford.