Child of Bethlehem, make us your children, simplify and soften our hearts so that we may enter the realm of God with gratitude and joy, for we look to you in hope. Come, Lord Jesus! Come!
—Advent Litany, M. McCarthy
I expect most of us know what a hardened heart is because we often experience it in our body – a feeling of tightness across our chest, a sense of constriction, a set jaw. There is some stubbornness within us that does not want to yield, to budge, to submit, to open, to become more pliant. Perhaps you’ve experienced a hard heart when someone has misunderstood you, when you’ve felt betrayed or deeply hurt, when God doesn’t seem to answer, when you just don’t want to change your way of doing things.
What would it mean if we petitioned the Child of Bethlehem to soften our hearts as mentioned in this verse from the Advent Litany? Do we even want God to transform our hearts of stone? Perhaps we can manage this feat ourselves on our own terms. Yet it doesn’t appear that we can accomplish such transformation by ourselves. Jesus’s birth points to the reality of our human dependence on God, a God eternal and beyond time, yet one who chooses to enter into time as a helpless child. Such an example of total vulnerability and trust. By cooperating with God’s grace, we can be helped to transform our bitterness into joy, our pain into gratitude, our focus on ourselves into love of others. Advent can offer space and time to consider where in our life we might need to stop being stubborn, release our inflated sense of control, and rest in hope. Come, Lord Jesus! Come!