I once heard a speaker refer to the grace of the place when reflecting how God can use certain places to manifest His presence. I was struck by the phrase, the grace of the place, not only for its poetic nuance but especially for its theological significance. Indeed, we find ourselves in life in many places, which include locations, times, circumstances and situations, and God does indeed confer a grace in all of them.
The season of Advent is one that especially helps to recognize the grace of the place. During the season of Advent, we look forward to the coming of Christmas and of Christ’s presence among us. We associate Advent with expectation as we hurry back and forth shopping, sending greeting cards and preparing for the celebration of Christ’s Birth. However, Advent does not mean expectation as we so often think. The word itself is a translation of the Greek word, parousia, which actually means presence, or even more accurately arrival. An arrival is the beginning of a presence, and in ancient days the word was a technical term for the arrival of a ruler who bestowed his parousia on the place and those he visited there. The season of Advent, with its sense of anticipation, reminds us that God’s presence has already begun in our lives and in the very place where we are. He is with us in every place in so many ways. However, that presence is not yet complete and is continually moving to its culmination.
The place in which we now find ourselves is already the final week of the season of Advent. The days of Advent always seem to go by quickly and sometimes even frantically. We usually resolve that we are going to do something spiritually to help us prepare for the celebration of the Lord’s Birth, but many times never get around to it. Sometimes we are disappointed as Christmas arrives and we find that our spiritual lives have not changed too much, and we are almost relieved when the holidays are over.
What might be something we can do for the remainder of this Advent, especially if it is going by too quickly? Perhaps it might be best simply to concentrate on what the season is all about. The grace of the place tells us that God’s presence among us has already begun, and
while His presence may be more complete at a later stage, He speaks to us today and where we are. We can become so preoccupied with the future that we overlook the grace of the present moment and of the present place. We need to concentrate more on what is before us and not be continually looking ahead.
Two of the dominant figures during the Advent season are those of Mary and Saint John the Baptist. So vastly different from each other, both awaited the coming of God but with a keen awareness that He was already present in their lives and in the places they were. The continual theme of John the Baptist’s message was that “The Kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15). It is not far away, but present and immediate. Mary was so keenly aware of the presence of God that she looked for Him in every place and even in events she did not understand. Truly, in the place of her womb, the presence of God had already come, but that presence continued to develop for her as she gave birth to God’s Son and followed Him as His closest companion. Mary and John the Baptist looked forward to the future, but did not overlook the reality of the grace of the place in which that future had already come.
We all need to take time to recognize God’s presence, His arrival, already among us. There are so many places in which God literally speaks to us and touches us. They occur in the Eucharist, the sacraments, our vocations, our loved ones, our daily dealings with others, and in the joy and sorrows of our lives. In these, God is present and calling us to recognize Him and to serve Him day in and day out.
Many distractions come to us this season. In trying to find the perfect gift or make sure no one is forgotten on our Christmas card list, we can easily miss the meaning of Advent and Christmas. God is present today in the place where we are, and He will be present tomorrow and every day long after Christmas is past in that same place. Likewise, those we love and wish to express that love to at Christmas will be here long after the holidays. May the remaining days of Advent help us to realize this and to treat others with joyful love all during the year and not only at this time. When we see God’s presence in them in that manner, Christmas does not become a time of anxiety to please others. Our loved ones and God are always with us. This may be the greatest lesson of Advent.
May the final week of Advent be a time to recognize the grace of the place, not only now but all during the year. A blessed final week!
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
December 16, 2022