It’s not too late to go to confession before Christmas—and there’s nothing more important you can do
I have a confession to make: I have not been to confession yet this Advent. Every year, I bug people to go sometime during the season, and I think most of my family has been. But I have not yet gone myself.
So the following pep talk is as much for myself as it is for anyone else who needs to hear it. I do believe to my core that there is really only one indispensable preparation you need to make before Christmas, and that is getting to confession.
Let me make my case.
Maybe, like me, you’ve been putting off hanging up lights. You need to make your house beautiful and bright to get ready for Christmas morning. Understandable, but it would be awful to overlook making Christmas personal, intimate. Inviting Jesus into the dark places is what the sacrament is all about. There have been times when I have gone to confession utterly hopeless. I just went because I could not think of anything else to do, but I had no hope that things would get better. And guess what? Day broke. Jesus, the sun, came up. The dark confessional is where you meet the light of Christ. It could happen to you.
I am almost done shopping, and I have something for everyone on my list. Everyone except the birthday boy, and I know exactly what he wants. It is the same thing every year.
Or maybe it is baking that is weighing on you, eating up all your time, because you have to make cookies and fudge and all kinds of sweet treats that people simply can’t have Christmas without. There’s an ancient Jewish practice of spreading honey on a slate where the Torah was written, and the children just beginning school are invited to taste—to learn from the first day that the law is sweet. My friends, I have to learn this over and over again, but it is really true that the structure and limits of the law pair so well with the joy and delight of living in God’s grace. You are a baker; you are good with a timer. Go ahead and look up the bulletin and see when confessions are. I bet you can fit it in, and rediscover one more time that a good life, like a good recipe, is often about balance.
But you still need to clean! Oh, you are making this too easy. Confession is the ultimate clean-up operation. It is even more efficient than physical cleaning. Imagine if you could clean a room by simply naming the biggest, most disgusting, most dangerous messes, and then saying, “And I also want the smaller messes to be gone, too, because I don’t like them.” And it worked! You can actually do this in confession. It is the best deal in town.
What about presents? I am almost done shopping, and I have something for everyone on my list. Everyone except the birthday boy, and I know exactly what he wants. It is the same thing every year. I always try to talk him out of it and convince him that something fancier and flashier, some newer model will be better. But no. Every year, he always wants the lumpy, awkward, homemade gift of my heart. He wants me to take a deep breath, turn off my phone, slump into the dim church, creak around on the kneeler for a while, say the dumb things, and then he wants to save me. That is what he wants for his birthday. How can I say no? He is such a good boy.
I’ll make a deal with you. As soon as my editor says this weird little essay is O.K., I’ll look up the local confession times this week, and then I’ll go. I’ll go! It doesn’t have to be perfect. It is never going to be perfect. I just have to try. Want to try it with me?