About now many families are preparing for Christmas by wrapping the gifts they’ll give to loved ones. The payback for all this work comes when they watch the beloved recipient remove those wrappings to reach the gift so artfully concealed.
That’s kind of like how we prepare ourselves for our presentation before God. We spend our lives wrapping our essence in layer after layer of impressive earthly trappings only to discover that by the time we’re done, God is more interested in how WE respond as He unwraps our gift to Him. So for the purposes of this blog, let’s say that our giftwrapping our soul is akin to the living process, and God’s unwrapping commences our dying process.
With that understanding, now consider Jean Vanier, founder of “Faith and Light”-–a worldwide community for people with mental and physical disabilities. He was one of humanity’s most beautifully wrapped gifts. He generously gave of himself throughout his 90-year lifespan—especially to people of that community. Upon turning 90, however, and sensing the end of his earthly life, Vanier said:
“I know that new weaknesses, new forms of poverty and new losses are waiting for me. It will be the descent into what is essential, that which is most hidden in me. That will be all that remains when all the rest is gone. My naked person, a primal innocence which is awaiting its encounter with God.”
Vanier’s admirers are confident God was pleased with the gift Vanier gave Him under all those wrappings.
Throughout that life, Jean Vanier acted as a 20th century John the Baptist for the disabled, proclaiming the coming of our presentation before the Savior. And like John, he knew his time on earth was dwindling but that the presence of Christ must continue to be amplified (“He must increase; I must decrease.” – John 3:30). This Sunday’s readings support Vanier’s hope that as our meeting with Christ nears and as our human wrappings are stripped away, our primal innocence will make us worthy of consideration. Isaiah had a vision of the glory of that reveal long before John the Baptist, as the first reading shows (Is 35:1-6a, 10):
Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.
In the meantime, as Advent is the season of waiting, we should realize that throughout history the best of us have been doing that—since Isaiah himself. This is why Christ’s disciple James counsels patience with each other, we human souls, in the process of casting off what is not essential so we can be one with God’s essence as it was revealed to the prophets (Jas 5:7-10):
Do not complain, brothers and sisters, about one another, that you may not be judged. Behold, the Judge is standing before the gates. Take as an example of hardship and patience, brothers and sisters, the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
As John the Baptist decreased, Sunday’s gospel reading tells us of that point when, while in prison waiting for his fate, he had a twinge of doubt that the prophet everyone in his vicinity was talking about was the One John was talking about. So he sent some of his own disciples to Jesus’ disciples to make sure. Did this display of doubt on John’s part miff Jesus? Maybe Jesus realized John was still in the process of decreasing, and had yet to reach the raw state to which souls like Jean Vanier aspired. In Sunday’s gospel reading (Mt 11:2-11), Jesus tells his disciples John is more than a prophet but still without the primal innocence and vision of more heavenly souls.
Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
Maybe that’s why Jean Vanier had such high regard for people with mental and physical disabilities. They are often considered the least in our earthly kingdom. However, he hoped the faith and light he helped many of them achieve would become the gifts that keep on giving in the kingdom over which Christ presides.