In the earliest months of his pontificate, St John Paul II found himself in the season of Advent, and took the opportunity to teach about its significance:
Advent means: God who comes, because he wills “all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4). He comes because he created the world and man out of love and established the order of grace with him.
He comes, however, “because of sin”.
He comes “in spite of sin”.
He comes to take away sin.
Though not as emphatically penitential as Lent, Advent is a time when, after initially recalling that Jesus will come again triumphantly in glory, we strive to prepare ourselves to celebrate during Christmastide that first, humble coming of Jesus. Hopefully, our preparation this Advent has included a good Confession and a resolve to turn away from sin.
In Mother Teresa’s Secret Fire (pp. 113-114), Fr Langford illustrates the humility of our Lord with this Christmas-related anecdote from the life of St Jerome:
After many years spent in Jerusalem translating the Word of God, Jerome finished his grand project just days before Christmas. To celebrate his accomplishment, Jerome decided to spend Christmas Eve in nearby Bethlehem, in one of the many grottoes that dot the countryside. According to the ancient account, sometime around midnight Jesus appeared to him, saying “Jerome, what will you give me for my birthday?”
Immediately and enthusiastically, Jerome declared, “Lord, I give you my translation of your word.” But instead of congratulating him, Jesus simply replied, “No, Jerome, that is not what I want.”
Jerome was speechless. Then he began to complain and remonstrate with Jesus, asking why he had let him go on for forty years, far from home, laboring at something other than what God most wanted from him. But Jesus remained silent. Jerome started suggesting other ways of honoring Jesus’ birthday – fasting, becoming a hermit, giving his possessions to the poor. To each of these Jesus replied, “No. Jerome. That is not what I want most.”
Finally, Jerome protested, “Then you tell me, Lord. Tell me what would give you the most joy on your birthday, and you shall have it.
“Do you promise, Jerome?”
“Yes, Lord, anything at all.”
Jesus replied, “Give me your sins…”
Fr Langford recapitulates:
“Give me your sins.” In his limitless humility, more than any service we can render him, the Lord considers it a gift that we “allow” him to take away our sins. Why? Precisely because he thirsts for us, because he longs for union with us, and the only obstacle to that union is our sin – which, in his eyes, then, becomes the most precious gift we can offer.
Will I be able to give Jesus my sins this Christmas? Strangely enough, even after being absolved of my sins, there is part of me that still regards them as my sins. Of course, I have not a shadow of a doubt that my sins have been forgiven. But have I truly given those sins to Jesus?
St Jerome initially proffered the work of his hands as his gift to Christ, but this was rebuffed by the Lord as less than ideal. This reminds me of something that I’ve heard Scott Hahn say in at least half a dozen of his talks over the years:
God wants to do more in you than he wants to do through you.
May this Christmas be a season in which I seek the heart of my Lord, truly give him my sins, and give to him whatever else it is that he wants the most from me.