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Advent: How our preparations point to Christ

Dear sisters and brothers in the Lord,

Advent days have always been special for me. There is something about the "quiet and peace" of waiting for something special to come. In our case as believers, the "something" we wait for is not a thing, but a person: Jesus, our Lord and Savior. From the very beginning of Creation, our most gracious God promised that “He would give Himself to us.” This promise was renewed again and again, until it was fulfilled in the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. The same promise was then renewed again in the Blood of the Lamb and in His Resurrection. Our Lord will come again “in glory, to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom will have no end.”

This promise, so often repeated – and acted on by God – gives us a sure and certain foundation for our hope and faith! Therefore we prepare for His final coming, not in dread – though we know we will be judged when He comes – but in anticipation. Christ’s promise to return includes in it all the means of sanctification He has given us in His Church. We have been baptized, we have received His absolution in Confession, we have been made one with His humanity in receiving His divinity in the Holy Eucharist. We are sinners, but we trust in His mercy. We have felt deeply the tenderness and love that pours out from His most Sacred Heart, and we desire to respond with our whole heart, mind, and soul.

The preparations we now make in our homes and lives to celebrate Christmas are signs of this desire. We decorate because we want people to see our best. We give gifts because we love. We feast with family and friends because we want to share our happiness. But how much more true are these same signs, when they point through and past these worldly ends, to Christ!

Consider the care and mercy with which God Himself prepared for the fulfillment of His great promise. Today we celebrate the beautiful solemnity of Mary’s Immaculate Conception. From the very first moment of her life in the womb of her mother, St. Anne, Mary was preserved through Christ from every stain of original sin. By this miraculous gift, Mary’s human nature was both restored to a state of justice with God, and also perfected or transfigured, in anticipation of Christ’s Resurrection. Because she was “full of grace” (Lk 1:28), Mary was able to give herself entirely to God, who gave Himself entirely to Her in the Incarnation. We, too, share in her perfect gift when we venerate her as the Immaculate Mother of God, imitating her love for her Son. Our country is blessed to have Mary, the Immaculate Conception as our patroness.

On December the 12th, we celebrate another Marian Feast, Our Lady of Guadalupe. She is the patroness of our Dicoese. The miracles of Mary’s appearance to St. Juan Diego at Tepeyac in 1531 – the visions, the roses, the Tilma, and the conversion of hearts that followed – occurred at God's command. Over and over again, God calls us to seek His mercy, to change our hearts. He wants to “give Himself to us” in the life of His Son, which is now the life of the Church. What gift could be greater? What gift could show more perfect love?

How, then, can our Advent preparations point to Christ? In the midst of our daily cares, we can cleanse our minds and hearts of sin in Confession, because we want to give God our best. We can devote our lives in the Eucharist to serve Him and those in need, because we want to love more perfectly. We can look forward in faith, hope, and love to the eternal feast in Heaven with our entire family in Christ. These ways are the footsteps of all the saints, where Christ “guides our feet into the way of peace” (Lk 1:79).

This third Sunday of Advent is called “Gaudete Sunday – Rejoice Sunday.” We should indeed rejoice! The Lord is coming to us, to be with us, to remain with us all days. At His coming, no darkness can stand (Jn 1:5). May we use these days of Advent to prepare in joy and hope, to be with Him in the light of glory. Please pray for me, that I may be worthy to lead you well according to His will. Pray for our priests and seminarians, and especially for each other, as we make this pilgrimage to our true home.

Your brother in Christ,

Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City

(P.S. Thanks to all those supporting the Denver Broncos and their amazing quarterback!)


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