My mom is a dangerous houseguest during the weeks leading up to Christmas day. A visit to a friend, family member, or stranger often ends with something missing from its proper place in the house. I’m not saying my mom is a seasonal pickpocket (no need to hide your valuables, I promise); she only ever takes one small thing, and it’s always the same. She takes baby Jesus from the manger.
In all honesty, my mom doesn’t even really steal the infant Jesus - she’ll hide him in a drawer or behind a plant and reveal his location to the unsuspecting owners come Christmas morning. She does it all in fun, and she does it with the spirit of Advent in her heart. While I used to be a little nervous that she would upset a nativity scene while dropping me off at a friend’s house in middle school, I’ve become increasingly grateful for the empty mangers she supplies to me (and other unsuspicious targets) for a few weeks every Advent season. Through her playful antics, I’ve come to have a clearer picture of the posture of a longing heart.
In my mom’s wake, the Mary figurines, now kneeling over an empty pile of hay, seem to be looking for Jesus like a needle in a haystack. The Josephs, with their staffs and lanterns, start to say, “I’ll go search for him! Where could he have gone?! I’m certain he was just here.” The whole crowd- wisemen, cows, and shepherds alike- appears to gather in a fluster, looking closer at the empty makeshift crib. Without the little Christ Child there, the whole posture of the event changes, and each figure’s wondering expression seems to echo a human truth: something is missing… I am missing something.
Each time I encounter this funny-looking miniature arrangement in my home (or in a home that shares my mom’s unique tradition), it calls up important questions in my own little heart. Am I missing something? Is there space for the Lord to be born in my heart? Most importantly: Am I letting myself long?
For me, at least, the answer is often “no”. Longing is a vulnerable act. It means acknowledging the areas in which I am incomplete, facing desires that may not be met in the way I expect, and accepting a painful ache. At the conclusion of a year that has left many areas of life looking disrupted and confused, it’s easy to see that my longings are numerous; I long to be with others, I desire the comfort of tradition, I want to move about my life without fear. For many, coming face-to-face with these longings has been new and uncomfortable (and rightfully so). A fast-paced world often lets us zoom from desire to desire without a chance to dig deeper into our wants. But the Advent season is an invitation to something radically different than the bustle that the world offers: it is a time to learn how to long again.
So, my friends, what are you longing for? It can seem strange to come to God with a wishlist of sorts, but in all truth, He DESIRES to know our deepest wants. He asks for our trust in His good plan to fulfill our longings. For children, Christmas is a time to ask honestly and openly for wishes. There is a certain faith and trust placed by children in the ability of parents or caregivers to deliver their Christmas wishes, or at least to hear them in earnest. Kiddos number their wants on wishlists, send them in letters to the North Pole, and candidly speak them aloud to family and strangers alike. For kids at Christmas time, longing for what they don’t yet have is not something to be ashamed of, but instead an exciting invitation to hope.
This is the kind of longing our generous Father asks us to experience, especially during Advent. He is certainly no vending machine fulfilling our every request and petition, but He is a loving Father who wants to hear what we are missing, enter into our longing, and point our desires towards hope in Him. Paragraph 1818 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church says this of hope: “Hope, as a Christian virtue, redirects our desires towards that which alone can satisfy them, opening up our hearts in expectation of the eternal bliss for which we are created.” In order to hope, we must first desire. To desire or long for something- a relationship restored, a special moment with a friend, a good meal -is to acknowledge that we will never be fully satisfied or fulfilled here on earth. It is to embrace the eternity rooted deeply in our souls. It is to accept the empty mangers that communicate a hope of fullness.
This Advent, let us allow our longings to lead to a daring hope, ultimately fulfilled by the Father with the gift of His only Son. (If there’s a baby Jesus in your Nativity scene right now, consider hiding Him until Christmas morning as an acknowledgement of holy longing… or else be very wary of who you invite into your home this Advent.)
Kathryn Hurd is a senior studying strategic communications and anthropology at K-State. She's a maker, a walker, a butterfly-spotter, and a lover of a good children's book. You can read more of her words, ramblings, and random interests here.