We’re going to see Jesus!” my then two-year old daughter joyfully proclaimed as we entered the church parking lot on the morning of the first Sunday in Advent. My husband Joel and I, a little surprised yet proud of her recognition, chuckled and agreed, “Yes, we ARE going to see Jesus!” How fitting her proclamation was at a time when we are especially called to joyfully prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus Christ.
If you were planning to go see an “important” person, I suspect there would be a few things involved in preparing for this meeting; there would be for me. I would probably research the person’s biography. I would thoroughly rehearse my introduction and handshake, take careful consideration on what to wear, and have a few good conversation starters ready to initiate small talk. Safe to say, I would invest time and energy preparing for the encounter.
The question I’ve been pondering since our daughter proclaimed “We’re going to see Jesus!” is if I am well-prepared for my encounter, my meeting, with Christ. Jesus, however, doesn’t care about small talk. He cares about the state of our souls and how open our hearts are to receive him. During this Advent season, how better to prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ than by making a good confession?
John the Baptist urges us to repent and “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths” (Mark 1:3). There was a period in my life where there wasn’t a straight path, let alone a path, to allow Jesus into my heart. I was headed full-speed in the opposite direction from Christ and his Church, and I didn’t participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation for over fifteen years.
I vividly remember a time when I had an opportunity to participate in the sacrament, but I allowed fear, shame, and guilt to keep me from experiencing the healing graces confession provides. As I sat in the quiet church and watched people go in and come out of the confessional, I simply sat frozen in the pew. I was paralyzed with fear and could not move. I even remember seeing a young girl who came skipping out of the confessional when she was done. That image has always remained with me as witness to the joy available in the sacrament.
When I finally participated in reconciliation again, something very powerful happened during my confession. It was quite freeing and healing to profess my sins and cry out tears of sorrow. After my sins were absolved and the final blessing was prayed, the heavy burden of guilt and shame I had been carrying around for so many years had been lifted off my shoulders. I felt whole, emboldened, and ready to go skipping out of the confessional like a little girl without a care in the world. It was a moment of such great joy.
Advent is a pronounced time to experience our longing for the presence of Jesus in all the places we need him most. What good does it do to welcome the baby Jesus into our homes in a nativity scene, if we don’t first welcome him into our hearts? During this time of year when people’s thoughts and actions are absorbed with gift giving and gift receiving, remember that God has left us an amazing gift, the gift of reconciliation, and it provides great joy, freedom, and peace. I will fully receive this gift in order to joyfully proclaim “We’re going to see Jesus!” throughout this Advent season and beyond.
Let’s strive to “Occupy the Confessional” this Advent.