A long time ago now, someone once gave my family an ornament for our Christmas tree. It was very curious: basically just a large nail hung from a green ribbon. You probably already know the significance of the nail: when looking at the manger, we remember the cross. When gazing on the Christmas tree, we remember the tree from which our Savior hung. When glorying in the Incarnation, we remember the Paschal Mystery. Jesus was born into our world to die our death and take our sins with him. The nail was a reminder that Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter are all part of the same mystery.
When I think about the great men and women of Advent, John of the Cross seems a bit out of place for me. Born in Spain, he eventually became a Carmelite. He came to know a Carmelite nun by the name of Teresa of Avila, and through her urging, joined her in a reform of the Carmelite order. His great writings helped to accomplish this and are noted as spiritual masterpieces, and helped him to be recognized as a Doctor of the Church. But the other side of being a reformer is that he was also persecuted. Not everyone, of course, agreed with the reform of the order, and he paid the price in prison for it. St. John of the Cross reminds me so much more of Lent than Advent. But then, so does that nail ornament.
Even today’s Gospel reading reminds us of the Cross:
From the days of John the Baptist until now,
the Kingdom of heaven suffers violence,
and the violent are taking it by force.
Even as we wrap ourselves in the hope and promise of Advent, we have to pause and remind ourselves of what the promise is all about. Jesus came to pay the very real price for our sins. Today we should reflect on John the Baptist, John of the Cross and that nail ornament on my parents’ Christmas tree. May we all be truly grateful for the birth of our Savior who died on our Cross.