This is my 54th Christmas. Surely I have no conscious memory of the first few. Each of the rest have been different in their own way, but they all have had many of the same things in common: decorations, a Christmas tree, Christmas carols, presents, Mass in a church with a Nativity crèche, family gatherings. Over the years, the joy of giving has surpassed the happiness of receiving. But for the most part, it’s the same routine every year, almost ‘same’ enough to yield a complacency of sorts.
This past Thursday, as I began to read Pope Benedict’s weekly General Audience address which he had given the previous day, I stopped after just the first sentence to consider one of the words used in that sentence: tremulous. [Note: Our Holy Father did not give his address in English, so this is the word used by the Zenit translator, which I assume is accurate]
With this last audience before the Christmas celebrations, tremulous and full of astonishment, we approach the “place” where everything began for us and for our salvation, where everything found its fulfillment, where the hopes of the world and of the human heart met and interlaced with the presence of God.
“Tremulous” is not a word that I encounter very often in my reading. So I paused to verify its exact meaning:
1 — characterized by or affected with trembling or tremors
2 — affected with timidity: timorous
3 — such as is or might be caused by nervousness or shakiness
4 — exceedingly sensitive: easily shaken or disordered
While the routine and complacency of my Christmas celebrations have certainly not overshadowed the real meaning of Christmas – the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ – as I approached the crèche each year, as I heard the Gospel reading describing Jesus’ birth read at Mass, my countenance could not be described as “tremulous.” Until this year, that is, when the Pope’s exhortation to be “tremulous and full of astonishment” brought it to my attention.
As I prayed over the past couple days for the grace to have a heart that would be more tremulous and full of astonishment before our Lord in the manger, I was also led to reflect on what may be one of the keys to attaining this disposition: the gift of the Holy Spirit known as the “fear of the Lord.” One of my resources described this gift as follows:
The Gift of Fear of the Lord enables the person “to avoid sin and attachment to created things out of reverence and love of God.” Primarily, this gift entails a profound respect for the majesty of God who is the Supreme Being. Here, a person realizes his “creatureliness” and dependency upon God, and never would want to be separated from this loving God. This gift of fear arouses in the soul a vibrant sense of adoration and reverence for the majesty of God and a sense of horror and sorrow for sin.
I pray for this gift to work in my heart to give me a much deeper appreciation for what it means for God to become man in Jesus. Then I’ll be better prepared to respond to the challenge issued by our Holy Father near the end of that General Audience talk:
In the night of the world, we must let ourselves be amazed and illumined by this act of God, which is totally unexpected: God becomes a Child. We must let ourselves be amazed, illumined by the Star that inundated the universe with joy. May the Child Jesus, in coming to us, not find us unprepared, busy only in making the exterior reality more beautiful and attractive. May the care we give to making our streets and homes more resplendent impel us even more to predispose our soul to encounter him who will come to visit us. Let us purify our conscience and our life of what is contrary to this coming: thoughts, words, attitudes and deeds — impelling us to do good and to contribute to bring about in our world peace and justice for every man and thus walk toward our encounter with the Lord.