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Reality Frees Us From Ourselves

Mallory Smyth

It’s Advent. My favorite time of year. Every morning in December, I get to wake up before the entire house and pray by a Christmas tree. It’s glorious. For four weeks, I get to meditate on the mystery of God becoming man, and I love it. I love it because I love God, I love Christmas trees, and I love history. And while all of these things make me feel good, I rarely allow these delightful moments to transform the way I live.

Advent is a season for preparation. During this time, we prepare our hearts for Christ’s coming, but that preparation should not only affect our hearts and minds. The work we allow God to do in us during Advent should leave a mark that makes us different during the rest of the year. But how? How should praying through old prophecies and thinking about Jesus’ being born in a manger change us? It should change us because, when we meditate on them, they tether us to reality, and when we live in reality, we will live more joyful and ordered lives.

Frank Sheed, a Catholic theologian, said in his book, Theology and Sanity, “Seeing what the Church sees means seeing what is there.”[1] When we see the world as it really is and interact with it how it actually works, our behavior harmonizes with truth, which brings on peace and guards against anxiety.

The issue is that this is easier said than done. It is not easy to live grounded in reality because we are surrounded by illusion. Our society is a marketing machine that is constantly telling us what should make us happy, sad, or afraid. It sends the message that life is about our comfort, our preferences, and our happiness at the cost of humility and sacrifice. If we do not deliberately hold on to the truth, we will eventually live as though the world revolves around us—even if we don’t believe it in our hearts. Meditating on God’s promises during Advent can break us out of the cultural narrative because it draws us out of our daily grind and into the broader story of God’s faithfulness throughout history. It reminds us of our role in the story.

One of these promises does just that. These words remind us of who God is and who we are in His plan of salvation: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them, light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy” (Isaiah 9:2–3).

Notice where the people are. They are in darkness. Notice that it doesn’t say, “The people in darkness have themselves walked out of the darkness and into the light.” No, the people were pretty helpless, and it was while they were still in darkness, the Light began to shine. The hero in the story is God, the Light, that saved the people. The people themselves did very little. They may have responded to the Light, but it was God who did all of the work.

Dear sister, this Advent season, as I pray through Isaiah 9, I am declaring over and over again that the world does not revolve around me. I am not the point of the story; God is. I don’t believe it in my heart, but I often live as though I am the center of the universe. How do I know? Because I am easily inconvenienced and offended. I’m also quick to believe that I am pretty amazing, and if others don’t verbally recognize my greatness, I am overcome with discouragement.

What about you? I bet that you know that the world does not revolve around you, but how do you live? What are your knee-jerk reactions? Examine your thought life. What do you think other people owe you? Answer these questions, and you will quickly find out whether you act as though life is about you or God.

During these weeks of Advent, if you let Him, God will gently but boldly put you back into your place. He will remind you of what is real—that all of history is about His goodness. We are the ones in the darkness, and He is the light. We needed a savior, and He did the saving. He is meant to be served and glorified, not us.

The season of Advent is ultimately about freedom. God became a man to set us free from sin, and in doing so, saved us from ourselves. He is the center of everything. When we live our lives according to this truth, wonder becomes attainable and joy becomes common. We become free of the burden that comes from trying to be the star on a stage that was never meant to be ours in the first place.

So, as we approach Christmas, let this season change you. Let it change how you respond when others upset you or fail to notice you. Let it free you from the tyranny of self-love so that your life reflects the reality that it is all about the One who is Love itself.

Come Lord Jesus, set us free from ourselves so all that is left is love of you.

[1] Frank Sheed, Theology and Sanity (Ignatius Press: 1993), 22

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