This week the Houston area had its first freeze warning of the season. We don’t get those very often. Part of why I moved here was for the warm temperatures. In the years since I’ve moved here, I’ve become more of a wimp when it comes to cold weather, so the last few days I’ve looked like this:
I know this cold front has hit most of the country, bringing SNOW to parts of the Midwest and Great Lakes. If you got hit by this cold front, I hope you’ve been able to bundle up with some blankets and block out all of that harsh cold. After the difficult year we’ve all had, it sounds so nice to just lay on the couch, cover myself in about 5 blankets, and take a long nap where I don’t have to deal with any of the things going on in the world. Doesn’t that sound nice?
Many animals actually do just that! Lots of animals hibernate, like skunks, bees, and snakes. Some of the most well-known, though, are bats, chipmunks, and bears! These animals are able to lower their heart rates and temperatures for extended periods of time so that their bodies are using less energy. Hibernating bats may only take about a breath an hour due to their lower heart rate. Many bears will sleep through the entirety of their hibernation; bats will wake up a couple times to drink, and chipmunks wake up periodically to grab a snack from their cache. Overall, it’s pretty restful. Sleeping for a few months, only waking up to eat or drink.
As nice as that sounds, these animals had to do a lot of hard work beforehand in order to make this possible. First, they have to search out and find a safe place to hibernate. They wouldn’t want to hibernate out in the open where a predator could find them. (Just like you wouldn’t bundle up for a nap in some blankets at work where your boss could find you!) Next, they have to stock up on food. For chipmunks this means stockpiling nuts and other food into a cache, but for the bears and bats this means eating a LOT to put on an extra layer of fat. This layer of fat not only helps keep them warm during the cold winters, but it is also where their bodies gets their energy during the hibernation period. These and other animals go through this arduous process so that they can rest up and wake up in the spring to a new year where the food is abundant again.
Similar to the animals preparing for winter hibernation, we too are currently preparing for the winter. We won’t be sleeping for months at a time, and we don’t need to put on a layer of fat to survive (though some of us do that by accident). Instead, we are preparing for the birth of Christ. That is what this time of Advent is, a time to prepare for Christmas.
For many people this looks like wrapping gifts and decorating the tree, but for Catholics it should be a lot more. What if the bear found its safe place and then spent all of its time of preparation making the cave look nice and not eating like it should be? He would not last the winter. The same is true for us. We can decorate and make things beautiful, it will surely bring joy, but it all means nothing if we don’t also prepare our hearts and souls.
At Christmas we celebrate the baby Jesus’ entry into the world in a manger, but we are also preparing for his next entry into the world at the second coming. As this past Sunday’s readings told us, we must stay alert and be prepared. Just like the hibernating animals don’t know exactly how long their hibernation will be, we don’t know how long we will have to wait for Christ.
How do we prepare for the coming of our Lord? It could be a long hard “winter”, living in a world that doesn’t believe as we do. To prepare our hearts, we must first start by clearing them out, making them safe places for Christ to reside. We can do this by going to confession. I encourage each of you to find some time in the next few weeks of Advent to receive the sacrament. Lots of churches hold extra services during Advent for this very reason.
Then, I encourage you to spend more time with scripture. You’ve made a place for God in your heart, now welcome Him in through reading His words. A good place to start is by reading the daily readings. They’re easy enough to find on https://bible.usccb.org/daily-bible-reading.
During this time of Advent, most of the first readings are from the book of Isaiah. He too is going through a difficult time with his people in Judah and Jerusalem. Throughout this book he calls for a renewal of their faith because he believed only strong faith in God could save his people. This is an inspiring message for all of us as we try to renew our faith in this Advent season, but it is not all rainbows and sunshine for Isaiah. These readings show us some of the struggles he went through that can be very relatable to our journey in faith.
No matter how you plan to prepare, I hope that you and your family have a fruitful Advent. I hope that God blesses your family as we close out this difficult year.