By NEMS Daily Journal

If you concentrate for just an instant, far off in the deeps of you somewhere you can feel the beating of your heart. For all its madness and lostness, not to mention your own, you can hear the world itself holding its breath.

The Christian writer and theologian Frederick Buechner was speaking of the Advent anticipation of the Christmas event with those words, and most of us - even the non-religious - have at some point been able to identify with what he describes.

The feeling grows especially intense as the days just before Dec. 25 are counted down. What child hasn't experienced on Christmas Eve, or even earlier, the overwhelming sense that an earth-shaking event is about to take place?

To the child, there's the material element of course, the promise of Christmas morning gifts. But the idea of getting isn't the sole cause of the pre-Christmas exhilaration, is it? Isn't there something in every person - and children especially - that craves a connection with the deep mysteries of the universe, the things beyond that which we can see, touch and feel?

For the young, Santa Claus is an embodiment of that craving. He is a great mystery, distant and yet close, unseeable and yet real. Anticipating his arrival - looking into the starry night sky on Christmas Eve, hoping for a glimpse of that mystery - gives every child who's ever experienced it a sense that the whole world shares that anticipation and collectively holds its breath. We lose that as we grow older, and not just because we no longer await Santa's arrival. We become preoccupied with more practical things. It isn't that mystery loses its appeal, it's just that we don't have the time to think much about it. We are too busy.

Today's entry in the devotional periodical Forward Day by Day includes this quote from Benedictine Sister and author Macrina Wiederkehr: "Each morning as you stand face to face with the grace of a new day, I invite you to proclaim this truth: 'I am not too busy to taste the fullness of life today.' "

There is no greater mystery than the Incarnation of God in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For Christians, it is the ultimate mystery - but also the ultimate reality - of the universe. That God became one of us in the humblest of circumstances to be with us and for us marks this earth on which he walked and the humanity we share with him with the divine imprimatur. Life here, not just the afterlife, is a good and grace-filled gift worthy of gratitude and celebration every day.

If that can't cause Christians to pause a moment to feel the world's longing for the remembrance of that event - and for the second Incarnation - what in God's name can?

As Christmas grows closer, inner exploration that can yield full awareness of its mystery will come only with intentionality, only with the kind of purposefulness that sets aside times of stillness and prayer. Otherwise, we will be too busy to hear the world - the created order - holding its breath, and that's too wonderful a moment to miss.

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