The Advent and Christmas seasons are my favorites. They are marked with anticipation, that sense of wonder, the longing for His presence among us, and the joyous celebration of the Coming of our King. I spend November and December joyously immersed in it all.
It's not just about these two seasons. The Christmas mystery is already the promise of our rebirth through the Passion, conveyed by a most unlikely image—that of a tiny babe. It comes together so beautifully that I can't help but marvel at God's perfect symmetry.
These sacred seasons reawaken childlike hope and joy in many of us as we are swept up into the central mystery of our salvation, the remarkable miracle of the Incarnation.
The Christmas Spirit
Every year I aspire to remain in the Christmas spirit all year long. I've tried many methods for staying fixed on the glories of it all. But as resplendent as these blessed seasons are, when the glimmer fades and I am once again slogging through everyday life, hope eventually dims.
Do you experience that post-Christmas dimming too?
We know intellectually that the truth of things is so much greater, so much more marvelous than we could ever imagine or understand. We know that there is a mercy given to us far beyond what we could ever deserve. We know that our God awaits us, ready to still our troubled hearts with His presence and console us with His love. He came for us, so He could die for us, because He loves us that much.
We do know it.
But then there are those inevitable times when we just don't feel it...
Don't despair. The childlike hope and joy we feel at Christmas are not mere wish or illusion. Our God has created an intense desire and need in your heart and mine—because He wants to fill them with Himself. The hope within us can swell to grandeur or dim to a weak flicker, but it is there in the first place because of His self-giving love.
We are capable of that hope and longing because God's grace preceded it all, establishing and awakening those feelings within us.
But we all grow weary sometimes. It's the nature of our humanity. While the wintery wonders of Christmas are real, so are winters of the spirit. What do we do when those overtake us?
From Mountaintop to Valley
It usually takes a month or two for me to come down from my Christmas mountaintop, but life has been particularly challenging lately.
In Adoration a few weeks ago, I surrendered each of my cares and each of my "people," one by one, into His hands. Then I asked Him to speak to me about what He wanted from me this year. And what He wanted for me.
I waited in silence before Him, knowing He would respond. I love that part, don't you? That sweet serenity where I await His response, knowing that it's coming, and anticipating what He has to give.
Immediately, the story of Christ raising His beloved friend Lazarus from the dead came to me so clearly.
Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying "Lord, he whom you love is ill." But when Jesus heard it he said, "This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it."
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So [therefore] when he heard that he was ill...he stayed two days longer in the place where he was (John 11:1-6b).
A Moment in a Miracle
It wasn't actually Jesus who came so readily to mind in Adoration. It was Martha, and her response to Christ, as she met Him outside the city. The Holy Spirit brought their short greeting to my heart in that moment.
I imagined the two of them together and I heard the words that the Scriptures tell us Martha uttered as she greeted the Lord. I knew my gift—my response from the Lord, was to sit with that precise moment of the miracle.
Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother.
When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary sat in the house. Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. And even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you” (John 11:17-22).
There it is. The "even now" moment that came to me in Adoration. Martha's affirmation of faith overpowered me.
Our Lord wanted that for me, and from me. I sat with the meeting of Christ and Martha for a while, putting myself into the story as if I were watching from the city gates. I imagined the intimacy and emotion of their greeting, Martha's grief, and Christ's knowledge that He would raise her brother from the dead.
Of course, Jesus knew He'd resurrect Lazarus. When He heard the news of the illness, He stayed in the place where He was. He was ministering beyond the Jordan, having narrowly escaped the hands of those seeking to kill Him. He had already told His Apostles that Lazarus's illness was to glorify God. But He worked the miracle with Martha's faith and cooperation.
As in most of His miracles, He invited her to believe and to participate. She expressed her faith in Christ's relationship with God the Father. This was not simply an intellectual "knowing," but a revelation of deep trust in what Christ could do in a particular moment.
An "even now" moment.
"And even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you" (John 11:22).
Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone.
And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. I knew that thou hearest me always, but I have said this on account of the people standing by, that they may believe that thou didst send me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Laz′arus, come out.” The dead man came out...(John 11:40-44).
Pope Benedict XVI said that being Christian is not merely the result of an ethical choice or the pursuit of an unattainably lofty idea. Rather, it is an encounter with an event, a person—Christ—Who changes our whole life, giving it a new horizon and a decisive direction (see Deus Caritas Est).
This event repeats itself over and over again throughout our lifetimes, as we continually encounter Christ and His love.
The event is renewed and re-presented for us at Christmas, at Easter, and in every Holy Mass, not to mention every experience where we feel God's presence or see His love in the moment.
But there are other moments that don't feel so consoling, because this life is both beautiful and brutal. Marvelous and miserable. Invigorating and injurious. It is filled with joys and sorrows intertwined.
No matter what moment you are in right now, remember this:
We serve a big God.
He is the God of Even Now.
Are you walking a dark road, unsure of where it will lead?
Struggling or suffering with a burden that feels overwhelming?
Are you straining to hear His voice against the echo of your fears and the temptation to despair?
Do you languish without answers or feel the weight of the world in this moment?
Take heart, have courage, and press on, even when you are weary, for it is in our state of total need that His gifts may be fully given and received. When we fling ourselves out into the darkness—in complete dependence upon God—it is our faith that lights the way.
When we are suffering great trials, we may feel we have exhausted all of our options, but we can never exhaust our God. We may be backed into a corner, but nothing corners Him.
Have confidence that He will work in the moment—any moment, even the ones that seem desolate. Your encounter and relationship with your Savior have given your life a new horizon. As John the Beloved told us, the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Whether we see it in the moment or not, we know it is there. We do not have to feel it. We simply have to know it and wait for it.
In prayer, in relationships, in life, there will be winters of the spirit. They can be discouraging and painful. God allows them, just as He brings the winter season, without which we would not know spring.
When faced with a spiritual winter, remember Martha's greeting to Christ as she affirms her faith in Him. Expect the glories of the Even Now. Wait for them; watch for them. Do not be discouraged.
Then remember what Jesus asked Martha before He commanded them to roll away the stone:
“Did I not tell you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?”
Winters of the spirit are real, but so are the springs of God's infinite power and love. May the new year bring us all an increased awareness of His presence, His promise, and His Kingdom made real in our lives.