(1) Scratching your envy itch. Let’s say we decide to treat the kids to a drive through the neighborhood to look at the lights. Sooner or later, one will find the house where someone’s got all of it together, and the beauty is breathtaking. If it’s not yours and there’s any strain of competitiveness in your soul, there will be a temptation to either go out and outdo –which doesn’t work even if you succeed in out-decorating, or will frustrate your pleasure with what’s been done up to now. The devil hates beauty, and must misdirect your heart to focus not on the loveliness, but on being better. The moth chafes at the presence of a butterfly, forgetting that the moth gets to enjoy the quiet loveliness of the night, which the butterfly does not. The cure is to rejoice in beauty always because it is, wherever it is.
(2) Gluttony of spirit is a common issue during this time of year, and not just with what we want. Gluttony even invades the act of giving. If you overspend, it’s a form of consuming unjustly what should be kept for something else. The goal of presenting gifts to those you care about is to show you care. Your friends and family don’t want you bankrupt. They want you joyful with them. Make a deliberate decision to give time, especially if money is tight. Make a cake, go caroling, give an hour of adoration, plant bulbs. Do something that reveals an investment of time, both now and later, so that your gift is lavish, but not excessive.
(3) The devouring maw of greed is endless want. The devil seeks to prevent pleasure in either giving or receiving. One of my children wrote a Christmas list, “What I Want for Christmas,” and answered, “Everything.” We are each of us, creatures of endless need, because we seek to fill our hearts with something other than God. As long as we do not fill that hole in our hearts with God, endless need consumes itself. Even once we leave childhood we struggle with becoming indulgent, such that though we don’t so much want or need things — we expect them. Fasting in Advent is a great way to prepare for the feast that is Christmas, and that includes in the little things like the candy bar at the checkout, or the soda in the vending machine. Little deaths make us more grateful, they prepare our hearts for the little gifts of life that others in our life might present. Prepare your heart to receive, and you shall have your fill.
(4) Sloth of the Season. It’s the busiest time of the year. We can feel so overscheduled by the needs of whatever our lives include, it become hard to begin. Jesus allowed himself to grow within Mary, and he’ll grow in our hearts as well if we submit. Put out one lovely decoration. Write a card. Purchase one gift. Repeat tomorrow. It will become less overwhelming as you go. The devil would love you not to see people, not to write cards, not to trim the house, not to rejoice in the Lord, but stay comfortably warm inside your home when the Holy Family knocks at the door. Keep remembering, all of this is to prepare for the birth of the Christ.
(5) Fear of the World. With all that is in the news, both within the Church and in the everyday, can make the birth of Christ seem like it happened long ago, and the darkness of the world is still here. It is still here. There is still sickness, death, foolishness, greed, pride, lust, wrath, sloth, envy, jealousy and gluttony. There’s still tremendous damage from all the sins in all the history of the world, but we know the cause of our joy, the reason for our hope. If we’re feeling fearful of forgetting, of being trampled by the world, that’s when we must ask our guardian angels to pray with us, to pray for us, and to invite us into the chorus singing, “Oh Come O Come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.” Christmas isn’t merely a celebration in memory of that day then, it’s living now, just as each Mass, the Eucharistic meal is living and happening now. Jesus tells us what the angels told those who heard their song on that holy night, “Peace on Earth, Good Will toward men.” We are offered what drives away all fear, the heart of our God.
Laughter and deliberate counter-action to the devil’s attempts to steal away the blessed joy of waiting for this feast day is what we’re called to do. My husband used to tell me that he’d be plagued with self-doubt, and could feel the devil seeking his despair whenever he’d have to work late and find himself walking slowly back to his car in the garage. I told him, “You know what you should do?” “What?” he asked. “Walk faster.” So if you’re still feeling plagued by a thousand cares and worries, walk faster to the manger. The path to the Christ child was a willful act of faith on the part of the three Magi and the shepherds. They willed to ignore the temptations to stop, to play it safe, or to go only part of the way. They came to into the presence of the Holy Family because eventually, it was all they sought, and thus they knew the peace the world cannot give, and the joy the heavens cannot contain. We must all do the same.