Advent Reflection - November 2010

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Gift 1: Time to Know Your Deepest Longings

As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God? My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, ¨Where is your God?〃

Psalm 42:2-4

One day on a evening walk in the jungle I came face to face with a deer. Our town had been in the midst of a stretch of very hot weather, and the stream I was walking along was mostly dried up. I had stopped at a place where the small stream broke into a pool before it disappeared back under ground.

As I sat for a while watching and listening to the gurgling water, a deer quietly appeared. We stared at one another for a few moments and, sensing I was no threat, the deer moved to the edge of the water and drank deeply.

I recalled the words, ¨As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.〃 I had been experiencing a kind of winter in my soul. There were few signs of life, and the Spirit of God seemed to have become dried up within me. Somehow, I was drawn to this external image of my internal longingflowing water finding a way to bubble up from beneath the dried up earth.

It was Advent and I was longing, even though I was barely aware of my discontent. Like everyone else I had been caught up in the busyness of Christmas preparations. Though we had lit the Advent candles at home and I had tried to pray, I needed more. I needed time to really allow my sense of longing to swirl up and become clear to me as it did on that dry  walk in the woods. I knew then that I needed a closer relationship to God and that I had to stop just going through the motions of my prayer life. My longing, once acknowledged, turned out to be an invitation to live with a deeper awareness of God's presence and care all around me.

What are you longing for? What is your heart trying to tell you? The gift God offers this first week of Advent is the invitation to explore your inner longings. The Church, through our Advent customs, and even the weather of the season itself support such inner work. During the first week of Advent, give yourself time and space to contemplate what you are truly longing for in life. Know that this is the season when your longings will lead you to the Christ Child, in whom the hopes and fears of all the years are known and responded to with generous love.

Theme: Our World Longs for God

As individuals and as a community, we are longing for the presence of God. World events shatter our complacency; family difficulties shake our resolve. How can we say God is present when so much seems to be unstable?

Advent Preparation Tips

When Advent comes, we are excited because the ¨Lord is coming.〃 And our prayer is ¨Come, Lord Jesus!〃 Our excitement inspires us to prepare our hearts and our lives for the coming of Jesuswhether in His ¨second coming〃 as the King of glory at the end of time or of our livesor in His ¨third coming〃 as one like us in the person of our poor brothers and sisters, everyday of our lives. Perhaps we can do three things: reconciliation with God, reading the Bible, and reaching out to the poor.

Reconciliation with God

When we are expecting a visitor, we do house cleaning. How much more must we put our house, ie, our hearts and lives, if the one who is coming is the Lord Himself. He has given us the sacrament of reconciliation to cleanse us of our sins and give us the strength to triumph over the temptations hounding us each day.

Reading the Bible

When we are expecting a visitor, especially if he/she is one we have not met before, we want to know more about him/her. How much more should be we familiar with the guest if He is the Lord. We have the Holy Bible where we can read about who this coming one is. At least Chapters 1 and 2 of Matthew and Luke will be most helpful in this regard.

Reaching out to the Poor

In the Parable of the Last Judgment (Mt 25:3-46), the king says, ¨For I was hungry and you gave me food.〃 Hence, it is the Lord we are entertaining whenever we deal charitably with our hungry, naked, thirsty brothers and sisters. And there are many of them around us. Sharing our blessings with them is one sure way of making our Christmas joyful, because there is more joy in giving than in receiving.

¨In his love He has filled us with joy
as we prepare to celebrate His birth,
so that when he comes, he may find us watching in prayer,
our hearts filled with wonder and praise.〃 (Advent Preface II)


Symbolism and Prayers of the Advent Season

Advent

Advent is the season of hope, preparation, expectation and celebration. The word advent is Latin for ¨a coming or arrival〃. The first Sunday of Advent marks the beginning of the Liturgical year in the Western calendar. Advent is not limited to the preparation for the arrival of Christˇs birth but also a time to remind us of our redemption and of the second coming of Jesus that is to come.

The Advent Wreath

The Advent wreath is the most recognizable symbol of this season. An advent wreath is comprised of four candles that symbolize and focus our attention on the coming of Christ, the Light of the World. The wreath may consist of any material; however, evergreen branches are symbolic and a popular choice.
Making an Advent wreath and having a simple lighting ceremony each week for four weeks leading up to birth of Christ on December 25th often is the centre for family prayer during this period of preparation. The advent wreath may be lit along with the Christmas candle (the white candle put in the middle of the Advent wreath on December 25th) throughout the Christmas season until the Feast of Epiphany, the common close of the Christmas Season.

Symbolism of the Advent Wreath

• Circle of the Advent Wreath  represents the endlessness of time in which God remains united with humanity.
• Evergreens - symbolize the freshness and vitality of the relationship among God, humanity and of creation.
• Four Candles and colour  represent the progressive revelation of God - fully realized in the birth and life of Jesus. Purple: lit on the first, second and fourth Sundays of Advent represent waiting and repentance. Pink: lit on the third Sunday of Advent and represents a needed break from the sombreness of the other weeks and celebrates the approaching coming of Jesus. It is a time to reaffirm our personal preparations for a meaningful Christmas season.
• White Christmas Candle  at Christmas a white candle is placed in the center of the wreath, which symbolizes Jesus, the light of the world.


Advent week 2

Gift 2: God's Words of Comfort

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the LORD'S hand double for all her sins.
A voice cries out: In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

Isaiah 40:1-5


In early adulthood I began to find Christmas a great letdown. People talk about the magic of Christmas. At that time in my life, the magic seemed to have disappeared. Christmas began to seem like just any other day, only one with a lot of additional obligations and emotional demands.
Ironically, my sense of holiday malaise began to ease when I accepted that Christmas is, in one respect, just like any other day. That is, I can recognize the coming of Christ into my life and into my heart at any moment, on any and every day. Christ's coming wasn't limited to that one single day when ¨the magic〃 had to happen. In fact I came to realize that this wasn't about magic at all, but about reality. The true meaning of Christmas is grounded in the profound revelation that God so loves us that he chose to dwell among us both in Bethlehem and today right in our families. I came to see how, in Isaiah's words, ¨the glory of the Lord shall be revealed〃 whenever I am willing to prepare the way of the Lord into my life. For me, making a straight path in the wasteland usually has to do with quieting my mind and opening my heart.
The gift for the second week of Advent is that God speaks a reassuring word of comfort in the midst of our discontent and longing. In this quiet seasona season we tend to fill up with a lot of noise and frantic activitymake time daily to listen for the comforting words of God in your life. Probably the quickest way to begin hearing those words is to create a daily gratitude list. Set aside five minutes each morning or evening and take a few deep breaths. When you are settled, start jotting down whatever comes to your mind that you are grateful for. With a heart full of gratitude, everything else in our lives will change. We will begin to see, even in the demands of our Christmas preparations, the real purpose of those effortscelebrating the Lord's arrival in our life and the lives of those we love.

Theme: God Speaks Words of Comfort

The prophet Isaiah spoke God's words to the Jewish people in the midst of their exile in Babylon between 597 and 537 B.C. Their lives were shattered, the Temple had been destroyed and the memory of it was fading among their children. In the midst of a discouraging time came words of comfort. God speaks words of comfort to us today. We can only hear them if we are open to listening. They are not the words of false comfort that everything will somehow turn out for the best. They are words that come to us in the midst of our pain and confusion. They will lead us to an even greater sense of God's presence in our lives and in our families.


Advent week 3

Gift 3: God's Love Placed in Your Heart

The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypta covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD. I will put my law within them, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Jeremiah 31:31-33

As a child, every year before Christmas I drew up a list of the toys and presents that I had my heart set on receiving. Usually there was that one special item that I just knew would gladden my heart and make me feel complete.
This week in Advent we focus on hearts: glad hearts, sad hearts, hard hearts, broken hearts, longing hearts. In the Scriptures much is written about hearts because the heart represents the person's deepest identity. Our hearts reveal who we most truly are because they hold what we most deeply desire.
What's in your heart? We can give many answers to that question, and it's a good question to ponder during this week of Advent. But God has an answer for that question, too. ¨I will put my law within them, and write it on their hearts,〃 says the Lord. So in addition to whatever else might be in your heart, you can also be sure that the law of the Lord is writtenin permanent inkon your heart. That law is love.

It's time to live out what's in your heart. I know that when I've gotten confused and lost in my faith there is one sure way to find my way back, and that is to love somebody. In my confusion, I look around to see who in my life could use a loving response. The Advent gift this week is the love God places in our hearts.

Theme: God Calls Us to Conversion of Heart

The bottom line is that we have to take responsibility for ourselves. The seed of change in our families, in the community, and in the world begins with answering God's call to meet us and to change our heart. In the midst of a world going insane, it seems a small thing to do. But one heart in tune with God can resonate in our families and through our families and communities into the world.


Advent Week 4

Gift 4: Hope That Lasts

Blessed are those who trust in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD.
They shall be like a tree planted by water sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.
Jeremiah 17:7-8

One day while on a retreat I made a trek across a barren stretch and up a difficult slope to stand on top of a high plain. As I walked, the whole area seemed desolate and empty. But once atop the plain I got another view. From there, in the distance I could see the outline of a currently dry river bed. It was easily visible because all along its dry banks, life abounded. From high above, the river bed was like a ribbon of green and gold. In the brilliant sunshine, green and brown leaves fluttered on trees and shrubs, whose roots stretched out to be watered by the stream when the rains came. These roots must have gone deep to sustain such abundant life even during a long, dry season.
Advent is a time to sink our spiritual roots deep, to let them stretch out to God, the source of all life. Because we are thus connected with God, we too can be sources of life to others in the way we live our daily life. Christmas is not only the season of receiving gifts; it is even more so the season of taking delight in giving to others. We emulate what God has done for us and in that we find our deepest joy. Let us prepare, then, to be generous in offering our family, coworkers, and neighbors spiritual gifts such as patience, prudence, encouragement, counsel, faith, hope, and love.
There's a spiritual adage that says, ¨You can't give what you haven't got.〃 The gift offered during this last week of Advent is the gift of hope. Let us drink deeply of the spiritual gift of hope that God offers us. Then we can cherish within us the spirit of Christmas and bring to others the blessings of the Christ Child every day of the year.

Theme: Hope Helps Us Endure in Difficult Times

We can easily become impatient with God and with one another. Living in hope means being willing to live courageously day to day. The signs of change in us will most likely be subtle. Living in hope means that while Jesus has already come, we are still in the process of letting him complete the journey into our hearts.

Rev. Fr. Andrew Manickam OFM Cap
 
 
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