Sunday, 10 December 2017 12:21

The Advent blahs; living in the joy of the Gospel

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Advent: Time to figure out which Commandments I’ve been breaking and squeeze in confession before Christmas.

Is that the message of today’s readings?

Sure, that’s part of it. But primarily an announcement is being made. God is going to do something!

Second Sunday of Advent, Dec. 10
Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11
Psalm 85: 9-14
2 Peter 3:8-14
Mark 1:1-8

Advent: Time to figure out which Commandments I’ve been breaking and squeeze in confession before Christmas.

Is that the message of today’s readings?

Sure, that’s part of it. But primarily an announcement is being made. God is going to do something!

He’s going to comfort (Is 40:1) and forgive (Is 40:2) and care for the needy (Is 40:11). Ultimately, he is going to transform everything for the good of humanity (2 Pt 3). In the meantime, he’s going to come himself, as Jesus of Nazareth (Mk 1). And Jesus is going to give the Holy Spirit (Mk 1:8).

Today, though, it’s easier for me to swipe past the announcements and focus on doing a little something to clean up my act before Christmas.

Perhaps this is because today nothing in the announcements feels terribly real. “Comfort” sounds like a greeting card word. Forgiveness is for big sinners (not me). It looks like there are a lot of needy people who aren’t getting their needs met. Jesus seems to be somewhere out there in the distance. And the Holy Spirit — who is that?

Why would what God is doing seem so far from me? Well, the spiritual life has highs and lows. Maybe the tide has gone out today. Things will look different tomorrow. A good workout and a full night’s sleep could make a world of difference.

Maybe, though, the coming of God’s kingdom in the world seems unreal to me because I don’t feel a need for what God is doing. And maybe, underneath that feeling, is a fear that activating my faith and opening myself to God’s action could make serious demands on me.

If that’s the case, repentance for me means changing how I look at my life — recognizing, first of all, that my greatest need is precisely to connect with what God is doing in the world right now. (The Greek word for repentance in today’s Gospel does mean “change of mind.”)

And my most important act of preparation for Christmas would be to tell the Holy Spirit, “OK, you be at work in me and through me however you wish.”

The question is: Do I want the reality of Christmas? Or will I be happy with just the tinsel?

Reflection Questions: What message do you hear in today’s readings at Mass? How are you going to get ready for Christmas?

Third Sunday of Advent, Dec. 17
Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11
Luke 1:46-50, 53-54
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28

“Rejoice in the Lord!” is the invitation of this Third Sunday of Advent when God’s word calls us, once again, to enter into the meaning of life in light of the mystery of the Incarnation, soon to be celebrated in the great feast of Christmas.

Traditionally called Gaudete Sunday, the theme of rejoicing in the Lord echoes through the readings and into our hearts and lives.

We may ask ourselves — in the midst of this season’s rejoicing — do I pause in prayerful reflection to give thanks to God for the immeasurable gift of his Son Jesus? Will I make the words of the responsorial psalm — “my soul rejoices in my God” — my daily Advent prayer?

Isaiah tells us that God anointed him to proclaim a message of liberation and joy. Once he receives the Spirit of the Lord, his mission reaches out to the needy and oppressed. For the lowly and the brokenhearted, his words must have been a source of comfort and great hope.

Isaiah also announces a year of favor from the Lord, a jubilee year that occurred once every 50 years in Israel’s history. This was a special time of restored equality and justice, when the land was left fallow, debts were forgiven and prisoners set free.

Jesus’ coming into the world inaugurates the coming of God’s kingdom on earth, the definitive time of redeeming grace that the world longs for.

St. Paul’s words continue the theme of rejoicing as the Apostle describes the kind of people we become as we await the coming of Christ. He encourages the early Christians to rejoice always, to pray constantly and to discern the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Perfect words of spiritual advice and a good road map for the Advent season.

Another guide we are given for our spiritual journey is the figure of John the Baptist, the Advent saint par excellence.

In the Gospel, he outlines his mission as one sent to witness to Jesus, the light of the world. His witness began in the womb, as he leaped for joy at the visitation of Mary and Elizabeth, his mother, and culminated in his ultimate witness of martyrdom. His entire life pointed to Jesus’ coming, as he made “straight the way of the Lord.”

From John the Baptist we learn that our Christian witness is rooted in humility and boldness. This saint of Advent also teaches us to turn to and fix our gaze on the Lord Jesus, so that our hearts will overflow with Advent joy as we say in faith, “Speak to me, Lord.”

Reflection Quote: “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew.” (Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, No. 1)