This afternoon, I took a leisurely stroll through the back pasture, a cup of hot chocolate in hand. The work of the day had been completed – chapel decorated, music rehearsed, hand-bells polished, the sacristy prepared for Midnight Mass. The late afternoon hours were now awash in a kind of calm yet focused anticipation with First Vespers of Christmas just an hour or two away.
Outside, the pasture was astonishingly quiet. Slanting shadows lay in quiet repose across the cut field. Sparrows skipped leisurely across the haphazardly-angled stubble. Crows flew in a kind of aerial amble, seemingly in no particular hurry to get no particular place. Over at the edge of the lake, three ducks swam lazily, and only the barest of breezes disturbed the watery reflection of the wintry sky.
Gazing upward at the trees, the plethora of bird nests caught my eye. It seemed that nearly every tree had a patch of bent twigs and pine needles that had been carefully woven into a humble yet fitting home. Having just completed festive decorations and rehearsal of complex music, the rustic simplicity of bird nests in barren branches was a gentle reminder that the real preparation for Christmas is in our hearts.
Over these past days, our entire community has helped complete the hard work of preparing our home for a joyous celebration of the Nativity of our Lord. The monastery and chapel are beautifully adorned. The monastic dining room is festively decorated. Music rehearsal is complete. Christmas dinner preparation is down to the finishing touches. But these are just signs of the real preparation, signifiers of the adornment of our hearts as we each form a fitting interior abode in which to welcome our Lord.
In a few minutes we will gather for First Vespers of Christmas, followed by a simple supper. Then the monastery will be quiet, awaiting the first notes of Joy to the World at Midnight Mass. During those Christmas Eve hours, always hours of astonishing quiet, I will adorn the home of my heart with calm yet focused anticipation, readying a fitting place for the arrival of our newborn King.