At the beginning of Advent, I like to imagine how Our Lady and St Joseph might have prepared the stable immediately before Jesus was born.

Joseph sweeps the floor. Removes spider webs. Finds creative ways to seal the stable and minimise cold drafts.

Mary is focused on her baby’s crib. First she empties the manger and thoroughly cleans it. Then she lays a bed of clean straw. Then a layer of softer hay. Over that she spreads lamb’s wool. It takes time and care.

Our hearts are like that manger. Each of us can become a place of warmth and welcome to the Lord. Hence this Season of Advent. We prepare our hearts, just as Mary prepared the manger.

Clean the manger

First we must clean. What proverbial spiders stalk your conscience? What stable dirt pollutes your soul?

St John the Apostle warns of three worldly snares:

“The lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” (1 Jn 2:16)

Lust of the flesh is not confined to sensuality. It also refers to the love of comfort:

  • Am I avoiding a difficult conversation which would help another person?
  • Have I seen an opportunity to serve my neighbour, but looked the other way?
  • Do I habitually choose the path of least resistance?

Lust of the eyes is related to comparison and greed. A critique of modern culture refers to “the orgy of consumerism that passes for Christmas.” This is the environment you and I inhabit.

  • Do I spend money ostentatiously?
  • Do I engage in impulse shopping?

The pride of life is the worst of all evils. It’s an all embracing presumption, which closes us to Jesus.

  • Do I suppress guilt and insist I am morally superior?
  • Have I given up the struggle? Do I accommodate sin?

The Sacrament of Penance

Just before Christmas in 1980, St John Paul II joined 2,000 children in a Roman parish. He began his catechesis by asking the children, “How are you preparing for Christmas?”

“By praying!” they shouted back.

“Very good! By praying!” the pope replied. “But what about Confession? It is good to confess in Advent. Will you do that?”

“Si!” the children shouted. “Lo faremo!” (We will!)

“Good!” John Paul laughed. And then he whispered: “The Pope will also go to Confession, so he is ready to receive the Child Jesus.”

Prepare the bedding

As Our Lady cleaned the manger, so we clean our souls. But remember, Mary didn’t just clean. She also laid straw and hay and lamb’s wool. Similarly, Advent exhorts us to foster hope, love, joy and peace.

There’s countless means available. A few examples:

  • Donating goods or cash to a local charity
  • Attending Carol services
  • Viewing Christmas lights
  • Joining an Advent scripture study
  • Visiting

Whatever your Advent traditions and customs, this year do them with Our Lady. With her help, Jesus will find our hearts to be warm and welcome and a place of rest.