We’re about a week into the St. Andrew Christmas novena. How is it going? If you left me a comment or an email, I’ve been praying for you by name.
You know, I never pray the novena perfectly. Every year I miss days. I fall asleep. I forget. I’m human, after all, and so are you.
It’s easy to slip into superstitious thinking, but we are Christians- we are not superstitious people. Chanting a prayer fifteen times a day for four weeks does not unlock some secret power or cause God to change His will.
Prayer doesn’t change God at all. It changes us.
If God answers your fervent novena with a “no,” it is not because you missed a day or only prayed 10 prayers instead of the traditional 15.
It sounds silly when it’s written out like that, doesn’t it? But I think it’s a real temptation to think that if only we execute this holy act perfectly enough, then God will hear us.
But He hears us even when we botch the whole thing.
I get a lot of email around this time every year.
There are so many people out there begging for a miracle. Sometimes I think stories like mine can be painful for others.
There I was, three years ago, saying my first St. Andrew Christmas novena for just one more baby- one more chance to live an openness to life that I had failed to embrace whole-heartedly.
His answer to me was three babies in two years. If you have been faithfully praying the novena and God still whispers a steady “no” into your ear, stories like mine may just break your heart a little.
And I hate that.
We know that God works all things together for good (Romans 8), but that doesn’t make it easier to accept the very real and painful crosses that we carry in this life.
And I’m sure my words seem like clanging cymbals to a person who is begging God for a miracle and feels hopeless and desperate.
So I guess I just want to send out a hug, if that’s you.
I want to remind you that it isn’t about the number of times you pray the prayer, how well you focus, or whether or not you fall asleep midway through.
It’s about sitting at His manger. It’s about waiting on Him.
Our words do not spiral out into the void- they fall into the manger of a tiny holy babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes.
As we anticipate His birth, we pray this novena as a gift to the Holy Child.
He takes enormous pleasure in our desire to offer the prayer up, even if we say it wrong or start it late or forget to say it entirely.
Steeping ourselves in the Christmas novena helps us remember to trust that He is who He says He is.
When we quiet our hearts and our worries long enough to ponder the hour and moment in which the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in piercing cold, we are made ready for the miracle of Christmas.
And Christmas is indeed a miracle.
For those unfamiliar with the tradition: the St. Andrew Christmas prayer is said fifteen times per day from November 30th, the Feast of St. Andrew, until Christmas Day. It isn’t really a novena in the traditional sense, and it’s not even aimed toward St. Andrew. It’s a meditation on the incarnation, and it is a powerful way to prepare one’s heart for the birth of Christ. It has also been called the Christmas Anticipation Prayer.