In the midst of Advent, we hear Jesus declare, Elijah will indeed come and restore all things. Jesus is referring to himself. His way has been prepared by the Old Testament prophet Elijah and the New Testament prophet John the Baptist so as to ready the world for a restoration that only the Incarnate Son of God, the Messiah and Savior of the World, can accomplish. And how much we need that restoration! Jesus is promising the restoration of our capacity to love, the restoration of our ability to receive God’s love…and to be people of love.
Restoration is a faddish thing these days. Television shows abound about restoring old houses, old cars, furniture, discarded treasures left for the trash. We are fascinated to see something practically squalid get transformed into a thing sublime. It gives us hope for us.
There’s a short video on YouTube that shows someone restoring a vintage antique toy car. The miniature is in the worst possible shape imaginable—falling apart, covered with dirt, looking like junk. But then the restoration begins…and it is very instructive for the way we are to live our Advent.
Because the first thing the restorer does is carefully take the toy car apart, piece by piece. Our Advent is about taking stock of our life, dismantling our manias, teasing out our ideas and feelings, and paying attention to the state of our soul, the needs of our heart. Our Advent examination of conscience is an act of thorough self-knowledge. It means being willing to admit how fragmentary our life has become. But not to the point of discouragement, for as the poet Rainer Maria Rilke expressed it, “It is here in the pieces of my shame that I find myself.”
The restorer then painstakingly washes every individual piece of the toy car. Some he scrubs with a brush. Others get coated with a solvent to dissolve levels of grunge. Still others get plunged into a bath of solution, left to soak in a basin until they come clean. This is the purpose of the penances and mortifications we take on during Advent. Each penitential act is a desire to return to the purity and innocence God has intended for us from the moment of our baptismal bath.
The next step is for the restorer lovingly to take up each piece and restore it to its original condition, or repaint it so that it gleams, or to refurbish and renew it in some other way, giving all the separate elements a very definite sheen. This is the purpose of the Advent confession we make before Christmas. When we confide our sins to God in the Sacrament of Penance with humility, trust, contrition, and courage, we come away from the confessional glowing with newness and the luster of grace that only the divine Restorer, Jesus our Redeemer, can cause. For the point of confession is to allow God to change in us the things that we cannot change in ourselves.
And then something wondrous happens. The restorer takes all these disparate, seemingly insignificant, tiny, disjointed pieces and tenderly, expertly reassembles them to produce what looks like a brand new, pristine, immaculate vintage toy car. It fills us with desire. We want that beautiful, valuable looking thing! And so too the same thing happens to us. At the conclusion of Advent, God the Father “re-assembles” us at the manger of his Son in Bethlehem. There in that assembly we experience a completeness, an integrity, a unity that we cannot know apart from Jesus Christ and what he does for us. “What the celebration of Christmas’ is about is the founding of a final order for the world. Christ lifted mankind out of every false order in this consecrated night” (Fr. Alfred Delp, S.J).
But perhaps the most important stage of the restoration is the very first stage when the restorer regards this corrupt, broken-down, grimy, apparently worthless piece of garbage and refuses to judge by what he sees. He makes the decision to look past appearances and to envision a tremendous potential that needs to come to be—and that will come to be—by the lavishing of his attention, his ability, his mercy, his grace, his power, his love. Our Advent job is simply to remain confidently in His hands and to believe what he beholds in us.
Raïssa Maritain prays for us: “O Hidden God, your presence overwhelms my heart. Our God of Compassion who restores what we have ruined—this is the hour when I touch what Faith conceals. Let us keep watch the long night through until the dawn when God shall tell the soul to enter into self, and into Him.”
– Fr. Peter John Cameron, O.P.