Advent: An Instinct of God Leads Us to Bethlehem
Fr. José Granados, dcjm
The winds of Advent are blown by the Holy Spirit. Isaiah, in the first reading of this Sunday, announces that, upon the Messiah will rest the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of science and piety, and fear of the Lord. Tradition speaks of the seven-fold gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Gospel, for its part, speaks of John the Baptist, a precursor of Jesus, who will baptize us with the Holy Spirit and fire.
So John the Baptist is called the “forerunner,” but at the same time the Forerunner par excellence is the Holy Spirit, who prepares the way to Bethlehem. According to St. Justin Martyr, all the prophets had some gift of the Holy Spirit, which rested for a while upon them. One was touched by wisdom, another by strength, another by piety; but what is new about Jesus is that all the gifts were concentrated upon Him. And not only to rest for a while, but to inhabit and dwell within Him, like Peter in His house.
In Advent, we walk towards Jesus, knowing that He has already come to us. That is why the Spirit guides us even more intensely than the patriarchs and prophets of old. Because now, as we are baptized in the Spirit and in fire, we have within us the seven gifts of the Spirit, as long as we continue to live in friendship with God.
And what are these seven gifts? Our very life begins with a gift from God, which He gives to us. Life itself calls and pushes us, like a spring that gives birth to the river. It is up to us to cultivate this gift, so that it may bear fruit, and channel it so that it reaches its goal. However, it turns out that the goal of our life is so high (becoming God’s friends, sharing His own life!) that we need another gift to complete this goal. The mere promise of this gift is not enough, like a fruitful seed that rests dormant, but this is a gift that buds and opens like a flower and fruit that grows and ripens in time. We work from this first gift of God, while waiting for His definitive gift of completion.
And here, in this culmination of the gift, enter the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. These gifts dispose our hearts so that God can take charge of our lives and make fruitful all that he has entrusted to us.
St. Thomas Aquinas says these gifts are like an “instinct” of the Spirit. Just as animals are born with an instinct, like the one that leads the lamb to look for mother’s milk, or as migratory birds fly over the seas to a warmer place, so there is in the baptized an instinct of God. This instinct is not moved by nature as in the animals, but by the Holy Spirit. That is why it is a special instinct, which is not below our reason, but rather above. It is an instinct towards the greatest love: towards divine love.
That instinct was brought to us by Jesus, when he became man, and transmitted it to us in Baptism. And in Advent, this instinct guides us to Bethlehem. This instinct is given to us by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I would like to look at three gifts that are especially suitable for Advent.
First, there is the gift of piety. Through piety we are prepared, so that the Spirit encourages our covenants, especially within the family and with God. John Paul II referred to the gift of piety as being within the body, for through the body we relate to our parents, brothers, husband, or wife, and it reminds us that the Creator has given us life. Concretely, the gift of piety helps us to respect the body; ours, and that of others, showing us within in the body a divine mystery. The son lives it, when he thanks the parents who, through their bodily love, have transmitted his own life to him. It is experienced by spouses who respect each other’s bodies, because they understand that God works in and through them, enabling them to unite, and to bless them with children.
The Spirit, in Advent, with His gift of piety, prepares us to worship the God made flesh, and to embrace in our hands that same flesh. In this way we learn that in the flesh, our destiny is at stake. And we understand the dignity of our work, and even our fatigue. We understand the dignity of our study, which requires patience, according to the time that the flesh requires to apprehend the Truth. Do not be afraid: God is not going to ask us to celebrate Christmas this year online, to create less hassle because he is very busy and cannot travel. He comes in the flesh to save our flesh, and anticipates with the gift of piety that we may depose ourselves to receive Him.
Along with the gift of piety, the gift of strength is also proper to Advent: “Strengthen the hesitant knees” (Is 35:3). Strength is, on the one hand, a virtue, a power of man to resist evil, and persevere in his search for a full life. But this strength is not enough to face the great goal of man, which radically surpasses him. And it’s not that the ultimate goal of life is a “mission impossible,” as in the film series of Tom Cruise. Well, when we say that something is impossible, it is because we imagine, it and we decide that it is beyond our strength. In fact, Tom Cruise finally ends up reaching the unattainable goal. However, the ultimate goal of life is to reach God. We can’t even imagine it for ourselves. That is why He gives us the gift of strength, that is, to participate in the very strength of God.
Faced with a rapid process of social distancing from God, when, with the foundation of faith seems to tremble, the temptation arises to give up, and to accommodate oneself to the surrounding environment. We need strength, not only as virtue, but also as gift; and also the gift of patience; patience to prepare with our work a gift that surpasses everything we do to prepare it. We are like a sleepwalker who, by just taking steps in the night, intends to make the Sun rise. And this is only possible if, as is going to happen at Christmas, the Sun joins his own steps to the sleepwalker.
Finally, there is the gift of council. We do not know which routes to follow on the way to reach Bethlehem. It is true that there is the virtue of prudence, which guides our steps. But this one virtue cannot guide us on its own along the road The gift of counsel means the ability to be counseled by God, beyond our poor light of understanding. And God’s counsel is beyond our gaze, not because the advice is too complicated, but precisely because it is very simple. The Child will be born where no wise man could wait for him, and every Christmas he surprises us again by His humble concealment.
St. Augustine, commenting on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, said that the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are like a ladder to happiness, leading us from the fear of the Lord to the wisdom of God. And he equated every gift of the Spirit with a beatitude. The fifth step is the gift of Counsel, and it comes when we realize we can’t find the route to God on our own. The fifth gift of the Holy Spirit corresponds with the fifth beatitude, that of the blessed merciful, who themselves shall obtain mercy. This, then, is the great counsel that God gives us: Be merciful to the little ones, and in this way you will imitate God, and He will become merciful to you, and help you to reach Him. Advent is a time to help, to forgive, to welcome. Here is the best advice, so that the Spirit may take pity and guide us to the Holy Family.
May this Advent guide us by the instinct of the Spirit. It is an instinct that drives us, and
even within the very flesh of Jesus. There, the Spirit was concentrated, and there his wind leads us. Thus, the instinct of the Spirit is an instinct of the Eucharist. The lamb is born and searches
instinctively his mother’s milk. The Christian is born and instinctively seeks the bread of life,
and that this bread be extended to every corner of his work and his family. Since we are
children of God, may we allow ourselves to be carried away by the Spirit of God this Advent.