YOU MAY CROWN THE INFANT KING THIS ADVENT
This Advent - like always - I've struggled to prepare my heart to welcome the Infant King because it has been closed by clinches of selfish concerns. The point of Advent is to prepare the heart to welcome Baby Jesus, to allow it to be softened where it has been hardened, to make it welcoming when it has been hostile; so it is a warm and loving home into which you may invite the Infant King. This may all sound like sweet, drippy words, but may I ask you, how important to you is the welcome that others give you? Think of how much you have valued the open, loving hearts of those in your life or who graced your life in the past. When you think back on happy times with friends and loved ones, think of how much their benevolent embrace of you meant, and how much the times when you were treated with unfair bitterness hurt, how wounding it was when someone didn't want you to be there, and how much you were loathe to go back.
Warmth and welcome versus hardness and hostility; they are worlds apart, and it does justice to remember a time, perhaps a bad time in your life, when pain was assuaged by one person who had a generous heart. My reason for asking you to dredge this up, is to think of how you might welcome the Infant King as you would like to be welcomed.
To be precise about "preparation", I'd say Advent is first a time of discernment, we need to discern how hard and how unwelcoming our hearts are, and be honest with ourselves before we can remedy our hardness and hostility to the Infant King. Discernment is often the catalyst for reparation. I doubt others have quite the wooden welcome for the Infant King that I am guilty of, but on my soul, I wish to rectify this. Oh, Jesus, may I do so! I had to reckon with my selfish heart because before Advent 2022, all I could think was what was in it for me. All I can think of is the graces that I want now, the peace and joy of Christmas to be had right here, right now. I was at a loss as to how to prepare and I couldn't see my own self-preoccupation because I didn't understand the right route to give honor to Christ, which, as I'll just explain, is the opposite of my self-centered self-obsession.
I read different authors, and then picked up my old friend, Gertrude. One Advent, on the 2nd Sunday, St Gertrude was given a most beautiful insight which as Jesus told her is for everyone. Our Lord infused her with the knowledge that anyone - any soul regardless of who they are - may prepare for His coming by changing their heart from one that is consumed with their own will to one that is wholly devoted to Him. This may seem easy, but it involves giving our whole selves to His will, regardless of our circumstances, which can be harder at Christmas than at any other time. That our wants are replaced by His wants, that our desires are replaced by His. It involves a complete change from our will to His will. Yet as Gertrude was shown, if we do this, we will have do the same to Him as though we are placing a regal crown on His Head. Gertrude was shown that the heart totally given over to God's will does the same as placing the crown jewels on His Head. This seems odd, but it makes perfect sense when you think that if you give your will to Him, you are allowing him to be the head or boss of your life and thus you crown Him as King of your will, yet there is an unseen spiritual reality - this is the same as giving him the most precious crown. It is about replacing the self with Christ; because as I learned if we only see the self, we can't see the Savior.
It is nice for me to talk about making your heart as welcoming as possible and supplanting your will with Christ the Infant King, but one does not happen without the other. If your heart wishes to exclude Christ completely, as opposed to welcome Him, then making your heart one where Christ reigns and His will triumphs at all times is going to be quite impossible. Here, if I may be so forward, I submit we need to pray for the grace for a loving, welcoming heart and one that offers its will up to Him.
This isn't necessarily agreeable to the ego; many find Advent hard because they think of all they have prayed for, all they have striven for so virtuously and how they have still been denied. And many good souls are privately and silently doing that hard work of saying not my will but Yours, oh Lord, and it my hope that this post encourages them, that they see they facilitate a coronation of the Infant King by their following of His will to the total exclusion of their own. Personally for me, it is easier for me because this Advent finds me thanking God for unanswered prayers. Just one example is that two health problems (one that was extremely excruciating) were not "prayed away" but in getting medical treatment, I met people who changed my life forever and for better. I will use my thankfulness for unanswered prayers as a segue into that softness of heart I hope to achieve. I find myself being docile to His will, but needing to be more welcoming of Him nonetheless.
Enough about me. Christmas is a time when many people feel great lack and the sharp pain of unanswered prayers. Couples who are childless have to see other couples who have children hanging up their stockings. There are the bereaved who have lost the person they loved the most. They know the agony of forcing their will to accept the unacceptable; like forcing the self into clothes that are much too small, it's like there isn't room for the self and that's why it has to be taken off and given over to the Savior who will make our clothes to fit His designs.
A word needs to be said about those who know the dire affliction of going against His will and have abandoned trust in themselves and have since placed their trust fully in Him. They, too, find Advent most purifying, because it may be an acute reminder of how they went against His will - and paid dearly for it. I think of a close friend of mine who came to my old apartment in London for a meal, it was a regular rendezvous, but this time while I served her, she matter-of-factly told me she'd had an "early" abortion. We'd been friends for some time, and she'd not told me beforehand because she feared I'd talk her out of it. I listened and because of my history in pro-life work, I could empathize with her symptoms; she had dire back pain which is something that is often underreported. Well, many years on, she still has this ache behind her womb in her spine. But the difference is that at the time of the abortion, she thought she'd go on to have the perfect family arrangement and have children. But no, she never had the chance at pregnancy again, and every Christmas she is reminded of that child, that they'd be such an age and that Mary had a Baby Who is placed in a manger while she will never lay her baby in a cradle. Hers is a worse grief because she went against His will, at a time when she was not "ready", but while we were once so different, I can't find a more agreeable soul who agrees with me that His will is best. That said, we gave up exchanging Christmas cards because the nativity scenes triggers her too much. I'll give her props though because she has seen the fault in her will and the triumph in His.
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I hope this is part of a series of posts I wish to write on the Kingship of Christ and how the make the Infant King, the King of your heart. I have a few more ideas which are actually quite different to the above.
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This post was informed by The Life and Revelations of St Gertrude the Great.
Hunt's Light of the World is the classic painting.