Normally we release these on Tuesdays, but with the way the calendar falls, we are releasing this week’s blog from Tara on the Vigil of the 4th week of Advent.
The reading for this Sunday is the Annunciation. The angel Gabriel appears to Mary, proclaiming that she will have a child, not just any child, but this child shall be called holy and will be the King above all Kings. Talk about troubling news. Not only was she unmarried, she had had no relations with a man and, yet she was going to give birth to the son of God. Feeling overwhelmed and uneasy about the coming future would be an understatement. Yet, Mary responds with unshakeable faith and a peaceful heart, putting all her trust in the Lord.
Peace is a foreign concept to me.
The dictionary defines peace as the freedom from disturbance; being quiet and tranquil. Anyone who knows me, is well aware that these words do NOT describe me. I am loud, bold, constantly moving, have a million thoughts going through my head and some anxiety to top it all off. I have traveled to the other side of the world and back searching for the one thing that will calm my restless heart.
In this final week of Advent, we are called to reflect on peace; the peace that only Christ can bring. A peace that this world sorely lacks. A peace like Mary’s, which I have only found in one place.
As I gaze upon the Eucharist, enthroned in gold majesty, the love and peace of my King and Creator consumes me. I know when I kneel before my God, all my troubles melt away and I am left trembling in awe of the man who gave it all up for me.
It is Your breath in our lungs Lord, so let us join together with the angles and saints, pouring out our praise to you on this joyous occasion. Let nothing hinder our hearts from receiving the unfathomable gift of your love you long to give us this Christmas season.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." - Isaiah 9:6
The Third Week of Advent is all about Joy. For a brief interval we put aside the subdued color of purple, a color that reminds us that Advent is a time of prayer, penance and preparation, and light the third candle on our Advent Wreath, the pink candle. This candle is traditionally known as the “Shepherd’s Candle.” It reminds us of the joy of the Incarnation, when the Word took on our human flesh and made his dwelling among us. The Shepherd’s Candle also calls us to create space within ourselves for the Word to come and dwell in our hearts. Only when we have done so will we experience the joy that our souls long for. The reality is, each of us desires joy, yet many of us struggle to find it in our day to day lives. A big part of our problem is that we have a contorted view of what joy consists of. Sometimes we think pleasure will bring us joy, but pleasure cannot be sustained beyond the activity producing it. Alright, so pleasure won’t make us joyful, but what about happiness, is happiness the same as joy? The problem with equating happiness with joy is this: happiness is an emotion, and emotions change considerably during a person’s lifetime. In the course of a single day, an individual’s emotional state may range from ecstatic to inconsolable depending on the circumstances. Frankly, its not normal to constantly exude one emotion, and its certainly not what it means to be joyful. So if joy isn’t pleasure or being happy all the time, then what is it?
I think the best way to describe it might be this. Picture the Nativity scene, not the commercialized version we see this time of year, but how it actually would have been. We’re talking about a stable with animals in it, perhaps in a cave in the side of a hill. The night is cold and dark, there’s not much light in the cave. It smells. Really badly in fact (having grown up on a farm myself, I can attest to this). Joseph and Mary are exhausted from their long, arduous journey and now they’re sharing their accommodations with some overly inquisitive goats, a couple raucous chickens and a semi-belligerent cow. Oh, and the donkey is there too, somewhat ornery after carrying Mary for so far, and also because he’s a donkey and is just kind of ornery by nature. And the icing on the non-existent birthday cake for Baby Jesus is when this gang of disreputable, low life and otherwise sketchy shepherds show up uninvited to the party. I’m sure Joseph was thrilled.
In short, what I’m trying to say is this: there is nothing in the aforementioned scene that is pleasurable or even happy for that matter. Yet the Nativity is one of the most joyful moments in all of history. How can this be so? Its simple really, Jesus Christ is there. When we make a place for him in our lives, he turns our squalor, lowliness and undesirable circumstances into something truly joyful.
One hundred miles through unsafe mountainous terrain, pregnant, on a donkey, and to make it worse, there was nothing but a bed of hay and stinky animals waiting for them to rest their heads. Not one part of that journey sounds like a good idea. But it was a journey that Joseph and Mary were forced to take due to Caesar’s decree for a census.
Not only were Mary and Joseph on a journey to Bethlehem, they were part of an even bigger journey, the journey of faith. Faith in the Lord’s plans that everything was going to be okay. Faith that they were chosen to be the parents of the Word made flesh. Faith that the Lord was with them every step of the way.
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to take my own journey, not to Bethlehem but to Santiago, Spain - the resting place of the Apostle Saint James. The Camino de Santiago, or the Way of Saint James, is a 495-mile pilgrimage through the Spanish country side. Like Mary and Joseph, my journey was not an easy one it was one full of hardships, trials, physical pain but also a journey filled with faith. A faith that kept me going every step of the way. A faith that has allowed me to continue walking my own faith journey, my own faith camino, even two years after arriving in Santiago.
Along the Camino, I came across a sign that said, “Yo soy el camino, y la verdad, y la vida” or “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” A picture of this sign still hangs in my bedroom as a daily reminder that even though I am no longer journeying to Santiago, I am on a much bigger journey, a journey in which Christ is the way, the way to heaven. And with my faith as my guide, I have discovered the truth and the life by allowing the Lord to enter into my heart. This realization has allowed me to come closer to the Father’s love and mercy.
“I am the way, the truth, and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me”
Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem is a glimpse into the greater journey, the journey to Jerusalem in which Christ gave his life so that we could have life. But first Mary and Joseph had to “go”, they had to have faith every step along the journey. We are also called to “go”. We are called to have the same faith in the Lord’s journey for our own lives.
Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen” and when we have faith, we have hope in what is to come, Love in the form of man. As we light the second purple candle this week, let us reflect on the word FAITH. The faith that it took Mary and Joseph to journey to Bethlehem and the faith that it will take us as we continue our journey to heaven. For He is the way, the truth, and the life.
I’ll come right out and say it. I’m impatient.
I do not like waiting for things to happen in my life. If there are problems in my life I like to solve them, I don’t like leaving projects unfinished.
Therefore, Advent is not my favorite liturgical season.
This season is dark. The mountains are dark, trees left bare of their leaves. The air is cold and hurts your face when you walk outside. Daylight is shorter and shorter, and darkness fills our days. We know this darkness is not only the absence of physical light, but a world longing for their King. Yet still, “rejoice!” is a common phrase heard through malls, churches, and workplaces this time of year. How? How can we rejoice when times of darkness are so prevalent? I want to solve the problem of the darkness. I want it to go away so I can be closer to Jesus.
Hope. We are a people of hope.
In Catholic Tradition, each candle on our Advent wreath symbolizes something. This week our candle stands for the virtue of hope. In this darkness, we have hope. We have a glimmer of light in our small, hope filled, purple candle. What is it that we hope for? We hope in the promise that Jesus is coming. This promise is not only for Mary, Joseph, and the Wise Men: it is for us as well.
Jesus. Is. Coming.
He is coming with Love and with Mercy. He has come to bring us closer to Him. He wants to be so close to us, so intimate with us. That is why He came as a little child.
Well, WHERE IS HE?
Homes and churches across the world have an empty manger sitting in their nativity scene: a spot fit for a King.
In times of darkness, we may feel all we are doing is sitting, waiting, crying, sitting, waiting: waiting for something to change, something to be better. However, there is more. Our Lord is too good to leave us in the darkness. We must be brave and hold tight to His promise, He is coming.
When Mary Magdalene found the empty tomb, (I know this is an Advent post, but we are an Easter people right?) she did not run away. What did she do?
She stood outside the tomb. She waited for Jesus to find her.
And what did Jesus do? He found her, He called her by name, He embraced her. But first He let her sit by the empty tomb.
We are waiting for Jesus, and He is excited to come to us. Let us rejoice and open our hearts this Advent season, even in our darkness, because Jesus is coming soon.
O Come O Come Emmanuel!
In His Heart,