You don’t need to spend a dime to understand Christmas is all about presence. The Church sings, “Emmanuel- God is with us!” God’s gift to the world is his presence, Jesus our Savior.
During the holidays, however, life tends to get busy and expensive. Presence yields to presents.
When this happens, as it always seems to, I think of Brother Lawrence. Like the great mystic and reformer, St. John of the Cross, Lawrence (1605-91) was a Carmelite monk. But unlike St. John, Lawrence was a lay brother who spent his “unremarkable” life cooking and cleaning. In fact, all that remains are some recollected conversations and a few scattered letters posthumously compiled by another monk into a short, now classic, spiritual work called The Practice of the Presence of God. His conversion happened one winter after “seeing a tree stripped of its leaves, and considering that within a little time the leaves would be renewed, and after that the flowers and fruit appear” (First Conversation)
We need Brother Lawrence to remind us that Christmas is all about presence. For Lawrence, this means having a sense of God’s love in the middle of our busy and distracted lives during the Christmas season, a way of “doing our common business purely for the love of God” (Fourth Conversation). He reminds us to be about God’s business during our busyness.
Three of Brother Lawrence’s key insights can help us practice the presence of God this Christmas.
Give Your Time
Christmas is more about being present than buying presents. The most precious gift we have to give someone is our time. As Christmas gets piled high with shopping, decorating, work, or final exams, the gift of time seems to have the highest price tag. Brother Lawrence reminds us that God is present to us in all times and places:
"The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees before the Blessed Sacrament.” (Fourth Conversation)
The Nativity celebrates the presence of God on earth, a God who came as an unexpected, untimely, and therefore unwelcome stranger. I think we all know people like that! Being present to God may mean letting ourselves be interrupted or making time for a family member we’d rather ignore, and letting God speak.
Celebrate Small Things
When we think Christmas, we think miracles. But the great mystery of the Incarnation reveals that God also shows his human face in the smallest, most mundane aspects of life. Brother Lawrence says:
“We can do little things for God. I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him . . . who has given me grace to work . . . It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God" (The Practice of the Presence of God and The Spiritual Maxims).
Brother Lawrence points to the presence of God hidden even among life’s most unpresentable circumstances by faithfully doing unglamorous things for God’s glory.
It’s tempting to scoff at the more trivialized or sanitized secular symbols of “the holidays.” Rather than spending Christmas railing against materialism, we can imitate the example of Brother Lawrence, who presents a more constructive, creative way to counteract the consumer culture without pointing out other’s shortcomings.
Brother Lawrence would turn everyday objects (like pots and pans) into an occasion to praise God. He did this by making them into little actionable reminders. For example, when you see Christmas lights, say, “Christ is my light.” Or pass a snowman and pray for a friend in need. In this way, we “re-symbolize” the world around us. There are a million possibilities. Come up with a few of your own and make it a habit.
Especially at Christmas, the whole world is a reminder of God’s love and presence. All of creation is a conversation starter with God, a conversation called prayer, or as Brother Lawrence would say, “the practice of the presence of God.”
For more ways to prepare for the coming of the Savior this Advent and Christmas, please visit our Advent Resources page.
Recently the small town in New Jersey that I have been living in for two years while doing service made its way into the national news. Unfortunately it was due to a toxic chemical spill after a train derailed about ¼ of a mile from my house. Within hours of the accident, the three other women that I live with and I were being evacuated from our home. Fortunately two alums of our program kindly opened their doors to us and welcomed us under their roof.
As the days of evacuation turned into weeks, the fun of being somewhere new changed to the reality of being displaced. Not knowing when we would be able to return home, I began, like any good theology student, making theological reflections on our condition within the current liturgical season.
Being evacuated, displacement, relying on the kindness of others to welcome us in — a perfect analogy as we celebrate this season of Advent. Feeling a little like Mary and Joseph, I found myself discovering consolation in their story. Under the roof of a stranger, Mary was welcomed in. Under the roof a stranger, our savior was born. Under the roof of a stranger, God was born as man. From under the roof of a stranger, great things can come!
There is more than consolation found in the connection of mystery to the season of Advent. The eschaton we reflect on during Advent reminds us of the story that has happened in the past, along with the reality of Christ being present today with our hope for Christ to come again in the future. What is it that the kindness of these “strangers” welcoming me under their roof calls me to? St John of the Cross, a mystic and doctor of our Church, writes in an Advent reflection; “If you want, the virgin will come walking down the road pregnant with the holy, and say, “I need shelter for the night, please take me inside your heart, my time is so close.” Then under the roof of your soul you will witness the sublime intimacy, the divine, the Christ, taking birth forever…”
We are called to welcome another under our roof: Christ. Like the alums who welcomed in my housemates and me or like the inn keeper who found room for Mary, Joseph and Jesus, we too are called to open the doors of our hearts and welcome Christ to find a home under the roof of our souls. Today, in the midst of this season of joyful anticipation, we are called to welcome Christ fully into our beings so that when he comes again He might welcome us, in return, under the roof of His Kingdom.
If you want, the virgin will come walking down the road pregnant with the holy,
and say, “I need shelter for the night, please take me inside your heart, my time
is so close.” Then under the roof of your soul you will witness the sublime
intimacy, the divine, the Christ, taking birth forever, as she grasps your hand for
help, for each of us is the midwife of God, each of us. Yes there, under the dome
of your being does creation come into existence eternally, through your womb,
dear pilgrim- the sacred womb of your soul, as God grasps our arms for help:
for each of us is his beloved servant, never far. If you want, the Virgin will come
walking down the street pregnant with Light and sing.
~St. John of the Cross, Advent Reflection
Pam Tremblay is the Blog Editor for the Catholic Apostolate Center.
 Eschaton/eschatology: is the theology that deals with the end of times and the doctrine of the last things. We speak of the eschaton/eschatology in advent when we are reminded of our waiting for Christ in his second come at the end of time.