The 1st Reading – Baruch 5: 1-9
This short, prophetic book was claimed to be from the hand of the famous secretary of Jeremiah, but theologians think it was more likely written later (between third and first century BC) as a work of encouragement to those Jews being forced to adopt Greek ways (Reading the Old Testament, Boadt, 502-503).
A mitre, according to Webster’s Dictionary, is a headdress worn by archbishops, bishops and abbots. It is also a joint between 2 pieces of wood to form a corner. A cornerstone, in particular, is a stone at the base that binds 2 walls. The cornerstone must be strong and secure for the integrity of the building. God is in your corner! Do you wear God like a mitre, to advance secure in God’s glory?
The Greek word for justice more closely means doing what is right. If we try to do what is right, we will display God’s glory and splendor. What does that mean to you? Think deeply about that question. Doing what we feel is right within us is what is right with God. This is what brings joy and mercy into the world. What wonderful thoughts to have this Advent!
The 2nd Reading — The Letter to the Philippians 1: 4-6, 8-11
Paul had established this church in about 50AD (the first Christian church on European soil). It was one of Paul’s favorite churches. Paul was in prison (probably in Rome) when Epaphroditus, an old friend from Philippi, arrived bearing more gifts from this church. Unfortunately, Epaphroditus became very sick. Later, he recovered and Paul was anxious for him to return home so that those who are worried about him will be relieved. Paul sent this letter with him. Despite the hardship and imprisonment, Paul’s letter is full of thanksgiving and joy, a very personal letter filled with strong emotions. (Serendipity, p. 375)
This is a love letter. Paul’s love for the people of Philippi is bursting in his words, and he wants that love he has for them to have an effect. Love is powerful! It moves people. It changes us. It makes us want goodness. And since God is love, of course it makes sense that love transcends and transforms all that is. When has someone’s love transformed you? When has it opened your eyes to something? How does love make a difference? The second candle in the Advent wreath stands for love! May its light inspire you along with Paul’s words!
The Gospel – Luke 3: 1-6
Have you ever celebrated the sacrament of reconciliation privately? Most people admit that they are nervous on arrival but relieved afterwards…like a weight has been lifted. There is a freedom in knowing that God comes to us where we are. God takes us “AS IS”. Sometimes you may see items on sale “AS IS” and that usually means they are damaged goods or less than adequate. God makes us ready for to be full price again! And God’s love is the same no matter what condition we are in. We are beloved, which is what John the Baptist proclaimed LOUDLY!
From Living Liturgy, 2004: Salvation – the fullness of life that our God wishes to offer us – is revealed – or shows forth – in our repentance. To repent means to change one’s mind – one’s life. Our work of repentance is about turning ourselves toward God who wishes to embrace us in mercy, forgiveness, and love. Sometimes, mountains of work, or paths of indecision, or valleys of doubt and fear keep us from the Lord’s embrace – the Way of the Lord. It is a reading that seems more like a civil engineer’s road plans. But it is only this God who can give sure direction to our lives. Let God re-engineer our lives. This Advent may we take the time to rest in the security of God’s nearness. (p.6). Then our ‘tense hearts’ can be eased opened to receive Jesus, the true Good News.
Luke takes great care to situate the ministry of John the Baptist and thus Jesus in the midst of human history. He mentions both secular leaders (Tiberius, Pilate, Herod etc.) and religious authorities (Annas and Caiphas). It is sort of like a “chronological drumroll.” He also chooses to include all of Isaiah’s directives (Isaiah 40:3-5) leading to the universal cry of “and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (God’s universal and pastoral care for all peoples is a major theme of Luke’s gospel and his Acts of the Apostles.) When we dare to try to put someone or some group outside of God’s saving concern, we should remember this theme. This Good News of Jesus Christ is intended to disrupt and disturb us until it enlarges our hearts, enlightens our minds, and unclenches our fists to welcome the truth of God’s love for all human flesh. (Celebration, Dec.10, 2000)
God breaks into human history through the birth of Jesus. By the incarnation of the Word, God enters human life, history, the world. But the Incarnation also makes it possible for us to enter the very life of God. Through the Incarnation, God became part of our eating and drinking, our sickness, our joy, our delight, our passion, our dying, our death. But all this is for the purpose of drawing us out of ourselves, away from our own self-preoccupation, self-absorbtion, self-fixation, so as to participate in the divine life (Altogether Gift, Michael Downey, p. 79).
1st Reading – Jeremiah 33: 14-16
Jeremiah the prophet wrote this just after the northern kingdom (Israel) was conquered by the Assyrians but before the Babylonian exile. Jeremiah was actually a prophet from the southern kingdom (Judah). It was a time of destruction and confusion. There was a deep desire for a king from the Davidic line. In the ending of the book of Jeremiah as we have it, the future of the monarchy is open, continuation possible but not assured. Christian readers may read into this passage that it is a foreshadowing of Jesus. In actuality, Jeremiah and his audience were looking for a more immediate solution to their problem, (An Intro to the Old Testament, Brueggemann, 188). And yet, they hold on with great hope. How does this reading both comfort and challenge us this Advent? What do you make of, “The Lord our justice”?
Semah saddiq or ‘just shoot,’ also rendered as ‘righteous branch’ and/or ‘legitimate heir,’ had become a classic prophetic term for the messiah, the anointed one. Because of this promised shoot, a renewed Jerusalem would be renamed Yahweh Sidqenu, ‘The Lord, our Justice’. This new name for the capital city is a play on the name of Zedekiah, Judah’s king, a weak and vacillating man, whose reign had resulted in disaster for his people. However, under the rule of the just shoot of David, the new Jerusalem or Yahweh Sidqenu would flourish in peace and justice (Preaching Resources, 2003, 514).
2nd Reading — 1 Thessalonians 3: 12 – 4:2
This is the oldest New Testament piece of writing, dating from about
50-51 AD. It is the beginning of Christian literature. Paul’s preaching and the belief of Jesus caused so much unrest and turmoil in this city that Paul was forced to leave. He later writes this letter to his new community. In the midst of difficult times, what is Paul’s message? What is the message to us this Advent? How does this reading compare to our 1st reading?
The Gospel – Luke 21: 25-28, 34-36
How is this gospel ‘good news’ for you? What words from this passage are most meaningful to you at this time?
Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said when asked about the future coming of Christ:
“The future is not in our hands. We have no power over it. We can act only today. We, the Missionaries of Charity, have a sentence we try to take to heart: ‘We will allow the good God to make plans for the future — for yesterday has gone, tomorrow has not yet come and we have only today to make God known, loved, served.’ So we do not worry about the future.”
From Exploring the Sunday Readings, Dec. 2000:
Fearful living is not faithful living! While these readings may seem unnerving, they are meant to offer us hope – even in the midst of disaster. Jesus assures us that our salvation is at hand. ‘Be not afraid’ is one of the most oft-repeated pieces of advice in the New Testament. With Jesus, we have nothing to fear, even when our boat is rocking in a violent storm.
From Living Liturgy, 2004:
We are told to ‘stand before the Son of Man.” This is an image of such an intimacy with Jesus that he has already come for us – is present to us. This unity and intimacy comes from prayer; it is our source of strength. Such vigilance does involve a type of dying; it is the paschal mystery. Our focus cannot be only on our own wants and needs. We need to unite our desires to the presence of Christ in our lives. We need to pray to recognize Christ in others and to grow in this likeness ourselves. There is a dying and a rising to all of this.
From Exploring the Sunday Readings, Dec. 2006:
During this season of busy-ness and “Jingle-Bell” tunes, let us keep our focus clear. Advent is about the coming of Christ – in the past, in the future, but even more so in the right-now. Justice is coming! Love is on its way! Don’t miss it!
Let us pray with Joyce Rupp:
looking high into winter trees
I see the distant nests
cradled in arms of branches
nests: round, full of warmth,
softness in the welcoming center,
a circle of earth’s tiny goodness,
flown far from the far corners,
patiently pieced together,
and hollowed into a home.
nests: awaiting the treasure of life,
simple, delicate dwelling places
from which song will eventually echo
and freedom of wings give flight.
advent has been on my mind.
prepare the nest of heart.
patch up the broken parts.
place more softness in the center.
sit and warm the home with prayer.
give the Christ a dwelling place. Amen.
1st Reading: Isaiah 40: 1-5, 9-11
From Celebration, Dec. 2002:,,This is the beginning of 2nd Isaiah. It is sometimes called the Book of Consolation. It was written to a people who were in exile, a people who were
shamed and saddened in the truest sense. Although they were separated from their land, God would still care for them. The prophet was to speak to his people “tenderly.” The Jerusalem Bible translates this passage more literally by directing the prophet to “speak to the heart” of the people. For the Hebrews, the heart was the seat of the intellect and will. God wanted them to trust deeply that he would still care for them.
From Mary Birmingham, W & W Wkbk for Year B, p. 61: Today’s reading refers to Israel’s return home as well as the prophet’s commissioning, The heavenly court witnesses and approves God’s command, call, and commissioning of the prophet. So commissioned, the prophet’s word announces a new age of restoration for the people. Through the power of God’s Word, the world will be reconciled. The people stood on the threshold of a new age,. The creative Word of God had spoken as it was spoken at the dawn of an earlier age, the creation of the world, and into the hearts of all believers was infused the seeds of new life. God’s glory would be revealed when the people were safely restored and in their own land. For Christians the glory of God is revealed in the advent of the One Who Is to Come. What does all of this mean to you?
2nd Reading: 2 Peter: 3: 8-14
From Mary Birmingham, p. 63-64: This letter is a pseudonymous work attributed to the apostle Peter. Most scholars date it around the mid-second century (130-150AD). It is probably the last letter written of all the canonical New Testament documents. Its imagery concerning the ‘end of the world’ was a part of the culture of the times. Total destruction by fire was a popular belief from Persia to the Greco-Roman world. These images were also common in Jewish apocalyptic literature. Such images or
opinions are not scientific assertions but mythopoeic images. Some scholars also suggest that the translation of heurethesetai (dissolved by fire) is better translated ‘will be laid bare’. Yet, keep in mind that the main point of this passage is that our God is a patient God – and that we need to use whatever time we have to repent, to change, to be reconciled.
Reginald Fuller adds these three points: 1) Watchfulness is a part of Christian living. 2) Rightly understood, the imminent hope in Christianity is a motivation for the pursuit of holiness and Godliness in life. 3) While we can demythologize our scriptures in order to have them ‘speak’ more clearly to us today, we must also hold dear to the fact that the final goal of history is the hope of a new heaven
and a new earth. (“Scripture in Depth”, http://liturgy.slu.edu )
The Gospel: Mark 1: 1-8
This is the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, as is stated. Mark has no infancy stories. Most scholars believe that this is the earliest gospel written, probably between 68-73 AD. Mark was not an eye-witness to Jesus or his ministry. (He seemed to have incomplete and inaccurate knowledge of the Palestinian geography and customs.) He is a Greek-speaking believer who relied on already established traditions concerning Jesus, most of which were probably oral. He is a skilled craftsman who wished to share the joy of our salvation by writing a ‘gospel’ – a work of good news. He is addressing this ‘good news’ to a community that was suffering persecution. The center of this good news for Mark is Jesus’ suffering and death. This gospel is sometimes called a long ‘passion narrative’ with a brief introduction. For Mark, Jesus’ death assures us that God is forever with us, even in what appears to be utter destruction. This is good news! (Celebration, Dec. 2002)
John’s clothing seems to be taken directly from 2 Kings 1:8 as the traditional ‘dress’ of a prophet. John’s diet also has to do with the truth of the good news he is to proclaim. Locusts were traditionally regarded as God’s instruments of judgment because they were agents of bitter and punishing destruction (Exodus 10:4, Isaiah 33:4, Psalm 105:34). Honey, however, signified peace and plenty and was a symbol of God’s comfort and care (Exodus 3:8, Deuteronomy 6:3). Together, these two ‘ingredients’ seem to announce the dual character of the gospel. Like locusts, the good news of Jesus Christ would lay bare and devour evil; like honey, the gospel would bring comfort, peace and sweet salvation to the repentant sinner. Today, John still stands in our midst. He still calls us to prepare ourselves, our ways, our hearts, our wills, and our world to welcome the challenge and the comfort, the purifying power and the peace that is Jesus. (Celebration, Dec. 2002)
Ronald Rolheiser says that we all live with “an innate tension” – we want to be ‘ourselves,’ different, unique, independent. Yet, we also want to belong, to unite, to be a part of community and to be intimate. Baptism both calls us to be ‘set apart’ from the world and to be part of a new unity, the family of God, the body of Christ. John the Baptist and Jesus show this tension. John ‘stood out’ – by his life style and his cry of repentance. His motivation, though, was to get people to come back to living the way God had called them – to be people of compassion and honesty. Jesus did not seem to set himself apart at all by externals. What set him apart was the integrity of his life which was filled with the intimacy of God and care for others. That set him apart – and that allowed him to show us and to call us to a greater intimacy with God and compassion toward others. Think of how you live with this tension and how God might be calling you. (“In Exile,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
How is the “nest” of your heart in relation to the dwelling of the Lord? Do you have room for your God? Is there an awareness in your life of the presence of the Lord? Where in your life does the Christ most seek a welcome?
Let us pray with St. Irenaeus…
It is not you that shapes God,
it is God who shapes you.
If then you are the work of God,
await the hand of the artist
who does all things in due season.
Offer God your heart,
soft and tractable,
and keep the form in which the artist has fashioned you.
Let your clay be moist,
lest you grow hard
and lose the imprint of God’s fingers. AMEN
1st Reading: Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7
From commentator Roger Karban: Today’s Third-Isaiah reading only makes sense when we understand that our biblical writers believed people thought with their hearts, not their minds. So when the prophet accuses his people of “hardening their hearts to Yahweh,” he’s actually charging them with closing their minds to Yahweh. Since they don’t expect anything from God, they don’t even think about God. Though Third-Isaiah knows Yahweh is on the verge of helping those recently released from the Babylonian Exile, God can only do what people permit God to do. Anticipation of God’s actions plays a big role in experiencing God’s actions. Isn’t that part of what Advent is…waiting in joyful expectation of what God is going to do in our lives?
This reading may make us feel we’ve got to try harder, do more. But the reading ends with a different message. We are to be clay. We are to allow God to work on us. So it is more a message of surrender. Allowing. Letting God in. Gerald May describes the difference between willfulness and willingness. Willfulness is the setting of oneself apart from the fundamental essence of life in an attempt to master, direct, control, or otherwise manipulate existence. Willingness implies a surrendering of one’s self-separateness, an entering-into, an immersion in the deepest processes of life itself. Willingness is saying yes to the mystery of being alive in each moment. Willfulness is saying no, or perhaps more commonly, “Yes, but…”. Both reflect the attitude we have toward the wonder of life itself (Will and Spirit, p. 6). How might an attitude of willingness be helpful as we walk toward Christmas?
2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:3-9
From Barclay’s Daily Study Bible Series: There are 3 things that stand out in this passage of thanksgiving:
- A promise which came true. Paul preached Christianity to the Corinthians and said Christ could do certain things for them. He proudly claims that all has come true.
- A gift has been given. Paul uses a favorite word of his, charisma, which means a gift freely given to someone. It comes through salvation and through whatever special skills we may need in life to be the most of who we are.
- There is an ultimate end. If we are clothed in Christ, we have nothing to fear.
How might how “willingness” help us live our lives as Paul sees the Corinthians doing? Might it help us live in gratitude like Paul?
Gospel Reading: Mark 13:33-37
From commentator Roger Karban again: Mark’s Jesus directs his call for watchfulness to a community still expecting an imminent Parousia. Yet the command to be alert goes far beyond just looking for Jesus’ Second Coming. The story he tells demonstrates how constantly being on guard is an essential part of our faith. As servants of the risen Jesus, we never know when the “master” is going to break into our lives. If we’re not continually attentive, we’ll miss what, as Jesus’ servants, we’ve been uniquely trained to experience. How do we do this?
When someone we care for travels abroad, we wait with HOPE for their return. So there is an eagerness in our watching. We are looking for good to happen. “Like the seed long since sown in springtime, God’s inward arrival comes through unobtrusively and slowly, but with terrific force, and becomes manifest in all the seeming banality of our lives,” (M. Birmingham, W&W Worksbook, cycle B, p. 53). We often have apocalyptic readings during Advent because Christ came to us as a child, and he came to us in his resurrection. He keeps coming and coming every day into our lives. Do we see it? Do we wait in hope for it?
Waiting is active. Most of us consider waiting as something very passive, a hopeless state determined by events totally out of our hands. The bus is late? We cannot do anything about it, so we have to sit there and just wait. It is not difficult to understand the irritation people feel when somebody says, “Just wait.” Words like that push us into passivity. But there is none of this passivity in Scripture. If we wait in the conviction that a seed has been planted and that something has already begun, it changes the way we wait. Active waiting implies being fully present to the moment with the conviction that something is happening where we are and that we want to be present to it, (Henri Nouwen’s “Waiting for God” Advent Prayer Booklet, p. 2).
This Sunday is Gaudete (Rejoice!) Sunday. What is happening in your life right now that causes you to rejoice? How is Christ present in this?
Isaiah 35: 1 – 6a, 10
How patient are you? Patient enough to wait for the desert to burst into flowers? For shaking hands to be stilled, for weak knees to be strong again? Patient enough to wait for the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the lame to run, the mute to sing? That kind of patience is a divine quality. For most of us, these things are too wonderful to imagine, much less to expect.
The prophecy to the people of God in exile is that they will return home to their land, a thing as impossible to dream of as a blooming desert. Still the message delivered to the door of God’s people is always the same: God will save you. From Egypt, from Babylon, from your sins and yourselves, God will save you. To those who believe, the desert is a garden waiting to awaken. No situation in life is barren, no defeat final. No matter the depth to which we have fallen, God is prepared to raise us up. When our hearts are most frightened, we can lean on this word (Exploring the Sunday Readings, 12/98).
A doctor in Aleppo recently said, “We are under attack. We have the feeling that the whole world has abandoned us, left us here in Aleppo to be killed brutally with no help at all. We can’t defend ourselves. We can’t do anything. We can’t protect our hospitals. We can’t protect our lives. We can’t protect our patients’ lives. We can’t protect our families’ lives. It’s desperate here.” Perhaps these words from Isaiah would comfort him.
What do you make of that word vindication? Vindication is not up to us. We must trust God and wait for God to execute justice for God surely will. It will be in God’s time, not ours (www.patheos.com).
James 5: 7-10
Henri Nouwen says, “What strikes me is that waiting is a period of learning. The longer we wait the more we hear about him for whom we are waiting. As the Advent weeks progress, we hear more and more about the beauty and splendor of the One who is to come. Advent leads to a growing inner stillness and joy allowing us to realize that he doe whom we are waiting has already arrived and speaks to me in the silence of our hearts. Just as a mother feels the child grow in her and is not surprised on the day of the birth but joyfully receives the one she learned to know during her waiting, so Jesus can be born in our lives slowly and steadily and be received as the one we learned to know while waiting.”
Consider how you would finish this sentence: Jesus, I await your coming more fully into my life so that now…
Is this how we make our hearts firm?
Matthew 11: 2 – 11
Why did John question Jesus? Perhaps conditions were so harsh in prison that he began to doubt. Maybe he was growing impatient for something good to happen. Maybe he wondered if it was all worth it. We all have moments of weakness, when we let our thoughts take over and cloud what we know down deep to be true. Jesus assures John by naming the actions done in faith. Like the saying says, actions speak louder than words. John and Jesus had their own followers, but they all had the same goal: salvation!
John had the destiny which sometimes falls to men; he had the task of pointing men to a greatness into which he himself did not enter. It is given to some men to be the signposts of God. They point to a new ideal and a new greatness which others will enter into, but into which they will not come. It is very seldom that any great reformed is the first man to toil for the reform with which his name is connected. Many who went before him glimpsed the glory, often labored for it, and sometimes died for it, (Barclay’s The Daily Study Bible Series, p. 7)
Jesus questions why the people went out to see John. This Advent season, look at what fills your day. Why do you do what you do? Does it bring meaning to your life? Does it bring you closer to God? Are you preparing a way towards Jesus?
How can we have a heart for Advent when there is killing and constant struggle happening in the world? Is anyone else feeling the same restlessness? It is hard to find peace when so much is pushing against it. Rather than complain about the state of world events and banter about who is right or wrong, I would like to share something I read recently that might touch our hearts in a new way.
Please bear with me as I walk through this idea by Jurgen Moltmann, a German theologian. He says we approach relationships in two different ways, as futurum or as adventus. Futurum is when we expect a relationship to have a predicted outcome. Futurum is Latin for “what will be”. We decide what will be based on what we know from the past. It is a tunnel vision approach. There is no room for hope because we have already wrapped our heads around what it will look like. Futurum decides how people are before we let them show us themselves. Adventus is the opposite. Adventus has no expectations, except perhaps to always be surprised. It is Latin for “what is coming”. We are pliable, open, and hospitable to other. It is living in hope and anticipating something new. Goodness will arrive no matter what actions we take.
There are all kinds of relationships. We have relationships with each other: our parents, our children, our friends, our doctors, our pets. Our church has a relationship with the community. Our country has a relationship with other countries. We have a relationship with the divine. Consider whether you approach these relationships with a heart that is futurum or adventus. I dare to theorize with the amount of shootings happening in our country that many hearts out there are in futurum. Maybe it is easier…more comfortable. But it can be paralyzing too.
Our challenge is to have adventus hearts. We need hearts that are open to something new and hopeful that good will come. That is how God breaks into the world. A pliable heart is receptive to seeing others as they are, and that allows God to enter. Our relationship with God doesn’t have to be separate. God weaves God’s way through all of our connections with others. An adventus heart is a heart that doesn’t have all the answers but presses forward that it will all work out anyway. Maybe it is idealistic and hokey. Maybe it is risky. But doesn’t it feel right to live that way? By emptying ourselves of how we think things SHOULD be, we take a stance of how things COULD be. It worked for Jesus. Maybe it’s worth a shot?
Another theologian, Basil Pennington, says, “You know how it is, my dear brothers. Some days we go to our lectio, and the Lord doesn’t seem to show up. We go on to the liturgy, and he is seemingly nowhere around. We approach the tomb of the altar, and it seems completely empty. Then, as we go down the garden path on our way to work, lo -suddenly there is the Lord,” (This quote on page 103 and much of my research comes from Steven Chase’s book, The Tree of Life).
This Advent, maybe we could try having adventus hearts. Be surprised at the wonder that is possible when God is able to break in and create something new in all of us.
I couldn’t sleep the other night. I went to bed late and I woke up early. My head was too full. Some things weren’t going well, some things weren’t getting done, people I know were having troubles…just stuff filling up my brain. I decided to get up and go for a run. I thought if I could have a little time to myself to think through all the thoughts, I would feel peace again.
That didn’t happen. The more I got into my head about all these issues, the worse I felt. As I ran, I could feel myself getting more and more tense. Why wasn’t this working? I started to pray about it, when suddenly I looked up. The sky was full of the brightest stars. There were no clouds, just black night and pinpoints of clear light. It dawned on me that I wouldn’t see the stars if not for the darkness. That’s actually something Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Only in the darkness can you see the stars.” I finally felt peace.
I was too caught up in myself. It wasn’t until I stopped and looked beyond myself and my head full of thoughts that I could experience a stillness. There can be such beauty in darkness. When things aren’t going well, it is then that strength is found. It is then that people reach out to one another in support. It is then that we find out who we truly are. The stars shine out through the darkness. It is so comforting.
Maybe that’s what Advent is. Yes there’s waiting, but it is with expectation. There is darkness, but the light of Christ shines through it. I can have a head full of thoughts, but I can also take time to stop. Just be still. Hit the pause button. That’s when I (we) will know God was with us all along, waiting -in expectation – for us…to see God through the pinpoints in the darkness.
Have a hope-filled Advent.
The snow hit last night, so 8:30 AM Mass was a difficult service to make. I’m glad I did wake one hour after Adam had cleared the driveway and walkways of snow. We just made it to Mass to join about 20 other brave drivers… and Al was the sole altar server for Mass. It was the only period of time today where I felt successful as a parent and relaxed enough to enjoy some time for reflection… until now?
Before the snow hit hard, we all enjoyed Jade’s school production of Willy Wonka. The kids went to bed late; yet still, perhaps, “all snug in their beds with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads.” After church, I ran late running Jade to her matinee performance in the school musical. I lost my patience with attempting to write my annual Christmas letter (due to Alejandro’s constant demands to download more Apps and videos). He got shipped to work with Dad at the rink, and I could escape my guilt of using “screens” as a babysitter again. My nightly visions “dancing in my head” are predominantly only of “what I needed to do!” and “ways I was falling short!” Every year it seems those lists grow exponentially. I hope it is just nostalgia that makes me think it was so much easier to put on Christmas when the kids were tots.
Like many others, financial stresses seem to grow these days rather than subside despite the fact that I went back to work once the kids started school. Will I stop questioning my decision to NOT teach but work as an hourly-paid aide so I can be present for my kids after school rather than grading English class compositions? (I’ve always justified this decision as a balance between still wanting to work with kids and Adam’s around-the-clock demands of managing the athletic facilities at Union College, sitting on the Youth Hockey Board, coaching youth and women’s club hockey, working as a referee, staying tuned to ESPN updates, and all the phone calls, texts, emails… With the stress of budgeting bills instead of just paying them off each month, nostalgia for the heedless bliss of two incomes and no kids has regretfully also come into existence.
Then there’s that nagging trait of thinking it’s not good enough, so I just have to strive harder toward perfection. I get home–sometimes bruised or bitten–from working with kindergarteners with social/emotional needs, nearly always emotionally drained. I pride myself in gaining more empathy (rather than disdain or blaming them) for their life situations and reactions to them. Yet, when I arrive home, I’m physically exhausted. Why can’t I find it thrilling to attempt explaining multiplying and dividing mixed numbers with my son? Why is driving across town to take Jade to hockey and walking the dog outside the rink during her practice not filling me with serenity? Why can’t I take pride in buying the precooked meal deal and timing my arrival home with a rare break in Adam’s work schedule so we can all sit together? Since returning to work, I find myself having to predominantly act reactively to what is thrown at me rather than having the time to be proactive. (I took pride in being proactive when I was teaching). I wasn’t the hockey goalie growing up—reactive is not my forté! I was going to live like Thoreau; write a Great American novel or one good poem.
I understand that even in the days of Leave it to Beaver or even The Brady Bunch, working class people couldn’t relate to how rewarding domestic life was supposed to be. Still, there’s this side of me that wants desperately to live like June Cleaver. I know life back then wasn’t so rosy for even the upwardly mobile middle-class; that is, it was closer to Betty Draper from Mad Men… and I am certainly glad to live without all the sexism, infidelity, and alcohol abuse portrayed in that setting. (I think I’d like the clothes though!). But I guess being upset that life isn’t what it’s supposed to be is the whole problem.
Hence, why I wish it was more Advent than Christmas time. Advent is a more reflective time. It’s not getting caught up in “Christmas”, but taking time to reflect on what Christmas should mean… in the abstract not material sense. So the kids are going to be disappointed that they don’t get all the THINGS they want. I’m upset that my house isn’t sparkling clean and orderly as well as decorated to the nines… looking like a gingerbread creation. We can’t get a new car—yet—and we won’t pay the bills off until the tax refund. (Yeah, that instead of the Disney vacation or new furniture.) Adam being upset that the Cardinals didn’t win the World Series is just as trivial as the rest of my supposedly grave concerns.
This is as good as it gets, and maybe that’s pretty good! Being a perfect parent isn’t being perfect. I can’t explain fractions no matter how I try. I couldn’t make better lasagna than Stouffers anyway. We still have a home. I got to see most of my family this year, and we all will see Adam’s side over Christmas. What more could one want for Christmas? Even if my kids don’t get many new clothes or electronics, they are healthy and growing into better people every day. I make a difference in my job… even if it’s not getting kindergarteners to pass a common core test; but rather, they feel better about themselves by learning to deal with disappointment, self-regulate their behavior issues, and become more disciplined students. Adam’s hard work heats the house and puts food on the table. Really, isn’t life about wanting what you have instead of getting what you want? I think if we all just take time to reflect on what makes us truly happy, we won’t get caught up in achieving Christmas before we’ve honestly taken time for Advent.
The meaning of Advent comes from the Latin words, advenire (to come to) & adventus (an arrival), and refers to Christ’s coming into this world. My prayer is for all of us to come to an understanding of what “Christ in the world” means. It means allowing Christ to arrive into our hearts and find the gratitude in what we have. For me, I think making it to Mass this morning helped me reconnect with that concept, especially in seeing the Advent wreath. The first purple candle means: hope. The second purple candle means: faith. The third pink candle means: joy. The fourth and final purple candle means: peace. I hope 2014 finds us striving for hope, faith, joy and peace, no matter what our circumstances or expectations. A Blessed Advent to all!
I’m going to be honest…I’m not that wild about Advent this year. Advent is an impossible task. I am trying not to listen to the Christmas carols, and I’m not getting stressed over the holiday rush of what gift to buy which relative. Still, there is a lot to do. Presents don’t buy themselves, trees don’t magically appear in the living room and all of the normal stuff of life still happens whether there are Christmas preparations or not. Leaving the Christmas to-do list aside, Advent itself has its own expectations. I feel like I’m being bombarded with prayers, reflections and ideas on what I SHOULD be doing this Advent. I actually have a little Advent reflection book that starts out asking me to sketch out what my plans for Advent are. I have no plans! Am I supposed to have plans? Now I’m stressing over my lack of plans. Is this what Advent is supposed to be like? Feeling overwhelmed and guilty?
Nope, I’m not going there. Whatever is not life-giving is not God-giving. As a matter of fact, I don’t know if God is anywhere in the “SHOULDs”. Doesn’t that feel freeing? Maybe it’s not that there is so much to do…there’s just so much that we feel we SHOULD do. And Advent is here to say no to that. Stop. Pray about the “shoulds”. Do I feel called to do this? Does it help others? Do I feel a “yes” inside when I think about it? These questions will help make the choice of whether something is a “should” or a life-giving action. And through prayer, God will be part of that choice. Advent is all about prayer, reflection and anticipated life, right? Maybe this Advent stuff isn’t so bad after all.
Richard Rohr and John Bookser Feister explained this idea so much better than I am in a December 1989 Catholic Update entitled “Christmas Watch: What Are We Waiting For?” They said, “Come Lord Jesus’ means that all of Christian history has to live with an expectation – to live out of an inner longing or emptiness, a kind of chosen non-fulfillment. For the fulfillment we await is always to come.” Many of the expectations we have will never be met. We are not supposed to have everything figured out. We don’t have to have a plan. What we can do is live a life of prayer. And hope. Because no matter what we do, or feel we SHOULD be doing, Lord Jesus is coming.
1st Reading – Isaiah 2: 1-5
Remember, this section is from ‘First Isaiah’ – that part of Isaiah that was written by an 8th century prophet when Assyria was attacking Israel. This was a world in crisis. There are three characteristics emerging from this reading:
- This messianic age will be presided over by a just and God-fearing descendent of David. The shoot coming from the “stump” and “roots” represents the state of the dynasty after the branches (unfaithful kings) have been removed. The ideal king, then is rooted in his earliest forebears.
- This era will be marked by the king’s execution of justice on behalf of his people. Equity and harmony will be re-established.
- There will be a return to the harmony and peace of Eden. Mutually hostile animal species will be able to co-habitate, as it was before sin came to be on the earth (Foley, Footprints on the Mountain, pp. 15-16).
Does it sound a little beyond reach? This Advent, consider living with this unfinished feeling. We know how we wish things would be, and yet we are not there yet. Richard Rohr says, “We need to be reminded that utopia is nonexistent. Utopia, that perfect world in our imagination, is not what we’re waiting for at Christmas. Our task in this world is to live with open hands –with emptiness – so that there’s room for a coming, so that there’s room for something more,” (Catholic Update, Dec 1989).
2nd Reading — Romans (15:4-9):
Christian fellowship should be marked in hope. The Christian is always a realist, but never a pessimist. The Christian hope is not a cheap hope. It is not the immature hope which is optimistic because it does not see the difficulties and has not encountered the experiences of life. The Christian hope has seen everything and endured everything, and still has not despaired, because it believes in God. (Barclay, Daily Study Bible Series on Romans, p. 196)
Paul is really furthering the vision of Isaiah here by encouraging us to see how the ‘peaceable kingdom’ has begun in Jesus, the One who welcomed – even sought out – sinners, the afflicted, the lost. We must continue Jesus’ example. No one is excluded from God’s mercy. (Celebration, Dec. 2004)
The Gospel — Matthew (3: 1-12):
John cries out: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Jesus began His ministry with the very same words in Mt.3: 17.) How do the first two readings prepare us for these words? How is this an Advent message?
What images of desert and mountains and valleys – of Spirit and fire – of axe and root – of good fruit and wheat and chaff – speak most to you?
John’s entire presence preaches repentance. His ‘dress’ of camel’s hair and leather belt is similar to Elijah, another prophet heralding the end times. He resists the mainstream, living in the desert and eating locust and honey. He is not shy…how often have you been in a group and called a brood of vipers?! What John is challenging is that just because paternity makes the Pharisees and Saducees sons of Abraham, that doesn’t mean the kingdom is theirs. It is by their fruit (what they DO) that matters (Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, pp. 4-5).
It is also important to remember when we read about repenting and judgment that we remember that Scripture is meant, first of all, to call ourselves to conversion. We may be tempted, though, to think it is all right to point the finger at others and even practice retribution ourselves. But it is fundamental to recall that God is the one who does the judging and God alones does the cutting. Final judgment is God’s job; ours is repentance. ( Exploring the Sunday Readings, Dec. 9, 2007)
How can we let this gospel move our hearts this Advent?