Growing up, one of my favorite Advent and Christmas traditions was reading from “The Advent Book” with my family. It was through this beautifully illustrated board book that I returned year after year to the simple yet profound truth about the Christmas story: Emmanuel — God with us.
“The Advent Book” acts like an Advent calendar. Each page depicts a door — some old fashioned and ornate, some more modern and simple — behind which is a snippet of the Christmas story in both image and verse. For a few years when my siblings and I were young, we would read a page each day in December — or, as we progressed along, we would start from the beginning and stop at that day’s date. And I can’t wait to make this a tradition with my own kids one day.
Immediately, across from Door 1, are the words: “His Name shall be called Immanuel — which means, ‘God with us.’” It is upon this truth that everything rests. If Christ wasn’t God, it wouldn’t matter. Maybe even more powerfully so, if Christ didn’t want to be with us, if he hadn’t humbled himself to be one of us, we would not be graced to know him in the personal way we are all called to experience.
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Emmanuel. God with us.
And yet, through our human weakness, it can be easy to feel abandoned by God, by Christ. It can be easy to look back on the Christmas story and think, “That was then, but I don’t feel God with me now.”
We’ve all had seasons like this, but as seasons do, they are meant to pass. And the truth remains: Christ wants to be with us. In fact, he desires to rest in the security of our hearts, the hearts he made for himself.
Throughout Advent, one of the devotionals I read was “Adore: A Guided Advent Journal for Prayer and Meditation” (Ave Maria Press, $10.95) by Father John Burns. Early on in the journal, Father Burns wrote: “In faith, loneliness shifts to solitude, and solitude is the perfect place for intimacy with God in the absence of any other distraction or activity. We must allow ourselves to be surprised by the potential of our own hearts, chosen as they are by God to be his dwelling.”
On the accompanying page, he shared a quote from St. Teresa of Ávila: “Settle yourself in solitude, and you will encounter God in yourself.”
Yes, it is in solitude that we often meet Christ in a deeper way. And while the invitation to invite Emmanuel in our hearts is one that doesn’t end with Christmas, it surely can be renewed with the Christ Child’s birth.
No matter your season, I invite you to recognize the honor we have in allowing our hearts to be a resting place for God, if only we would welcome him in.