Confirmations inspire me. That’s what they are supposed to do, of course, for all who attend: candidates, congregation and celebrants. After all, they are all about the coming of the Holy Spirit — God’s Advent — into our lives and all of the gifts God is just longing to pour into our hearts. More and more, I have been learning that it is not just we who are each seeking God. And even if we are very seriously, how much more God seeks us, and never lets us, looking for a permanent place in our lives — in our hearts, actually, at the center of our lives.

This is a little counterintuitive, I know. More often we hear about the struggle so many tell of just to “find” God in our lives. I remember what is was to be in my mid-teens. Not a period of my life I would want to return to. It wasn’t easy. But as I face every group of young people, about to be confirmed, my heart goes out to them and all the hopes and fears they must be dealing with, if their lives are anything like mine was at that time.

I remember how important friends were, to have good friends, friends who are loyal and who can keep confidences. I also know what it felt like to be disappointed, even feeling betrayed at times. Not everyone I thought was a friend turned out to be one. Or the tough dilemma every young person — all of us actually — faces from time to time, of wanting someone for a friend who does not particularly share the same feeling. And, of course, to be honest, it often goes the other way, too, that we are offered a friendship that, for some reason, we refuse. 

One thing we can be sure of is that Jesus offers every one of us his friendship. The gift of his own Holy Spirit is the gift of his heart to ours. It is that intimate. I remind the young people that the Holy Spirit is the “master of relationships!” I have heard the Holy Spirit described as “the Love between the Father and the Son,” a Love that is so real and enduring that it IS a Person. Now this is a great mystery. It is an essential component of the Trinitarian God who creates, sustains and prepares for us our eternal home, that we laid a claim to at Baptism (“citizens of heaven”) even as we pass through this temporal world. 

Practically speaking, however, if we are looking for friends or looking to be a good friend, it is the Holy Spirit we should go to first to show us the way. It’s amazing how many people — young and the not so young — will surf the web to find sites on which they check off various boxes about who they (think they) are and whom they are looking for as some soul mate. I know that some readers will attest to “blind” dates that actually worked out for the best. But why leave something as important as friendship, especially an enduring one, in the hands of uncredentialed strangers posing as matchmakers? Why leave it to chance?

The Holy Spirit KNOWS our true character, our real identity. Not the labels or names others have pasted on us. Not even the self-imposed life-style “choices” we may have been led to believe should be permanently linked to the current state of our emotional desires or tendencies. Our true self is always so much deeper than that, even from the face we see in the mirror every morning, which is not always our best. 

Of one thing we can be sure. The Father sees and loves in us what he sees in his Son and we are the reflections of that beloved Son because Jesus took our entire broken humanity on himself, cleansed it and lifted it up, even from death itself. Anything that is rotting, distorted, incomplete, broken within us, either because of our own sins or the effects of those of others who may have used or abused us, is rendered powerlessness in the merciful forgiveness that is offered us. If we are only willing to accept it! 

Yes. To accept being accepted — as we truly are. This is the story of God’s search for our hearts that plays out throughout salvation history and nowhere seen more touchingly than the way in which Jesus always seeks out the lost sheep, the outcast leper, the abandoned woman, the town sinner, the outsider, the one no one else wants to come close to. It is that lost and lonely child in each of us that Jesus comes to meet and to whom he offers his hand.

These are appropriate Advent thoughts. Advent means “coming to” in the sense of which we speak of someone who has finally come to their senses, woken up to the real world. It is the same state to which old man Scrooge finally came when he began to notice that there was a beautiful world out there beyond his workplace and his bank, and there were people out there more beautiful and lustrous than the coins he counted at the end of every boring day of a life that could not even imagine the idea of a different kind of day. Like Christmas.

One of the things we notice in children is how they are always open to new things, to surprises. They haven’t been jaded enough by routines or patterns of what life is really “all about” to be closed to the possibility of change and wonder. Tiny Tim Cratchit reflects this youthful spirit in “A Christmas Carol.” He is the only one who thinks that Mr. Scrooge actually has a heart, a capacity to be kind and to feel the warmth of another’s love. Have our vaunted experiences in life and our disappointments sometimes made us into Scrooges who cannot see the childlike heart in us all, yearning to love and be loved?

Maybe this is why Jesus told us that we need to become more like children — childlike, not childish — to recover our original innocence, in which we were reborn at the moment of our baptism when, if only for a moment, we were as pure as Adam and Eve before the Fall. God still sees the little child in us. We do not need to be afraid of his glance. He looks at us with love. This is through the eyes of the Holy Spirit who seeks a heart waiting to be filled with treasures of grace that not even Santa’s sleigh has enough room in it to hold.

A lot of stuff, for sure, will be purchased, given and exchanged as the Christmas season unfolds. None of it will have any enduring value unless accompanied by the love from the heart of the giver. And while every gift may hold the hope and promise of true love, it is at best a token or a symbol. The gift of God’s own heart, the Holy Spirit, is by contrast the offer of a real friendship that will last forever.

People today, more than ever, are searching desperately for relationships that are trustworthy and will endure. That loneliness and longing is perhaps even more deeply felt in this season where there is so much to hope for, yet often so much risk of disappointment and just more exhaustion as the season unravels in wrappings torn apart, and drying branches and morning-afters. 

Admit it. There is a child in you and me that longs to be picked up, loved, held and embraced, with the tender words breathed into our ear, “I love you with all my heart.” Most of us are too old for Santa. Our Christmas rituals may likely include children, the youngsters in our lives, that we pray will enjoy what was once more real for us. There is something about Christmas and children that always belong together. And quite naturally.

Even before we rush to Christmas day, we have an Advent to stoke up the flame in our hearts that longs for the God who always comes to us. If we have the honesty to admit it, that this is exactly what we need, we also have God’s permission to accept it, that this is exactly what God wants for us. God wants us to know that we are loved and precious to him. If a pattern of sin, resentment, discouragement or distrust has blocked or diverted a clear path for God’s love into our hearts, then we could start by asking the Lord to remove the brambles and the tripping stones. This is a specialty of the Holy Spirit: casting light in the darkness, removing clutter and creating order.

It is true. Children do often get buried in the little messes they create around themselves. If our pride is not so strong that we can’t admit that, once in a while, we do that too, then help is on the way. In fact, that should really be the theme of Advent. Every Advent. There is nothing so bad, no life so lost, that it is beyond redemption. The heart of God is full of compassion and takes great pity on us. One of the things children often want to do is be “like grownups.” They want to be in charge so that they can call the shots and command what they want. Loving parents know that it would be sheer cruelty and a lack of true parental love to give their children whatever they wanted and not what they really needed.

God knows what we truly need and that it is a love that we cannot give to ourselves, but which can only come from an Eternal Love, an Eternal Patience that forms us and sustains us — the Love that lasts. It is what our child’s heart truly desires, the Love that comes into the world: the Advent of Jesus Christ. This is the gift of the Holy Spirit, of God dwelling in the human heart. It is what our faith is really all about: a God of Love who comes to us to give us our heart’s desire. If we are shopping for something special for someone we really love, this is the best gift we can give, our friendship with Jesus. If we are that child that still longs for that special friend, the good news is he stands waiting at the door of our heart, knocking ever so gently. The handle is on our side — a handle even a child can reach — to let this Guest in.

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