The comment caught me by surprise. I was in the middle of beginning a CCD class for fifth grade boys and girls and I had just asked them why they were so excited in the weeks leading up to Christmas. A bunch of the kids mentioned the opportunity for family parties, gifts, and general fun.  They were laughing and joking about it.

And then a boy said, “My mom said we shouldn’t be happy during Advent.”

It turned everything around in the class; it went silent for a moment and the kids were puzzled.  

Yet it turns out that his comment was an invitation to me, and the class, to discover Advent. Come to think of it, this invitation to silence and reflection, to penance, in the days of Advent couldn’t be more different than the one our wider culture is giving us in the days leading to Christmas. We are all inundated with the advertisements on TV or radio with some variation of, “Are you ready for Christmas? If not, hurry to get that shopping list taken care of.”  And so I wonder if we stop for a moment, amidst the Christmas parties and the mad rush to buy that “perfect gift” for someone, to reflect on exactly why we celebrate Christmas?

“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” Luke 2:7

This passage always strikes at the heart of what I think is the most pressing question of Advent, “Is there room at the inn?”

So I asked my students, in these days of Advent, is there room for Our Lord in the inn of our hearts? Or are we “all filled up” in there?  Are the cares of the world, or the things we want, gnawing at our hearts? Do these things crowd out the Lord? I find it fascinating to reflect on that.  And I think if we can sort through this question, we will get some illuminating answers.

Perhaps then we will see that the waiting, the silence, the reflection, the penance of Advent is most worthwhile. Perhaps then we will know what it means to “prepare the way of the Lord.” Perhaps when we come out of the Confessional and see again with the eyes of the heart, too often blinded by sin, we will understand the meaning of Advent.

Perhaps then we can read the story of that night in Bethlehem anew. Perhaps we can see once again, with the imagination of a child, the moment when through the utter darkness of the night and the darkness of sin and death, in a world distressingly similar to our own, the sky was pierced by the light of a glorious star and the angels announced His coming.