During this time of year, everyone thinks about what to give their loved ones for Christmas. We want to give just the right thing that will make the people in our lives happy and that will show them how much we love them. Our gifts are expressions of ourselves and reflections of how important their recipients are to us.
There is a Someone of great esteem, Someone very important to us, who deserves the finest gift we can give. His name, of course, is Jesus. With all the rushing around and the focus on material gifts, have we ever thought to prepare a Christmas gift for the Christ Child? Perhaps we might think this is foolish. What could he possibly need? He’s the Son of God! No, there’s nothing he needs, but there is something he greatly desires: our hearts and our cooperation in his Divine Plan of salvation.
There is an old European tradition that Fenelon Clan follows in which a small wooden crib is gradually filled throughout Advent with pieces of straw in order to soften it for the Baby Jesus to lay on when he comes at Christmas. Each straw represents a prayer, sacrifice, devotion, or act of love offered for the Christ Child. Symbolically, then, we prepare our hearts as we prepare the crib for our Lord.
This Advent, I invite you to share in this tradition by forming your own Advent crib, either actually or spiritually, within your heart. What’s more, I invite you to join in a combined Advent striving: the sanctification of the family!
Jesus was born into a human family and spent his first 30 years living within its context in order to give witness to its sacredness and essentiality. It only takes a quick scan of the headlines to see how savagely the family currently is under attack. What better gift could we give the Christ Child than by giving our own witness to the sacredness and essentiality of the family?
Each day of Advent, I’ll offer a brief passage from my new book, Strengthening Your Family: A Catholic Approach to Holiness at Home, a bit of inspiration for our day. Then, I’ll offer a simple suggestion for something we can do to “earn” a straw for our Advent cribs, something that will help strengthen our families and foster holiness in our homes. You’ll want to follow along even if you don’t have your own family. We can give witness to the sanctity of the family whether it’s in the context of a biological family or our neighborhood, workplace, community, parish, ministry, or faith-sharing group. We can encourage holiness in our homes whether we live alone or with others. We can give this gift to the Christ Child no matter who we are or what our life circumstances.
I hope you’ll join us on this Advent journey; I know I look forward to it. I also look forward to hearing from you, with your own insights, input, and inspirations. Together we’ll prepare our hearts for our Lord’s coming on Christmas as we strive for strong, holy families.