Advent of Lights

Advent is entering its fourth week and we actually have a full fourth week this year.  It is a great time to reflect on our faith and take stock of our preparation to greet the Lord.  This year I have been reflecting on two aspects of Advent.

First, Advent is a time of preparation to celebrate the Lord’s coming into the world. But the term Advent has a profound meaning; more than just a time of preparation or expectation. The Holy Father has written that “Advent does not mean ‘expectation’ as some may think.  It is a translation of the Greek word parousia which means ‘presence’ or, more accurately, ‘arrival’ ” as in the ‘beginning of a presence’.  The Church builds her celebrations on this meaning as she celebrates Advent.  Though we reflect on the second coming at the end of times, and look forward to celebrating the Nativity; we do this within the mindset of Christ already among us; for indeed His birth isn’t when He came to earth.  His nativity, His birth, was when mankind, albeit slowly, came to know their savior – when our relationship with Him, as man, started. But His arrival, His becoming man, becoming flesh happened nine months earlier at His conception in Mary’s womb.  It is a big reason why the church uses this Gospel we just heard on the Sunday before Christmas – to remind us of when God entered our world, and who it was that helped.  We started this celebration of the Mass proclaiming just that in the Opening Prayer, remember how it started?

Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord,
your grace into our hearts,
that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son
was made known by the message of an Angel,…

Christ became man when Mary said yes and He was incarnated in her womb.  I think it is important to repeat: it was at His conception, His incarnation, not at His birth that God came among us. His birth in Bethlehem was when mankind started to know Him.

This seemingly small event, in a small town, to a small young maid was the start of the greatest gift to mankind.  Through this action of Mary the second half of our opening prayer was enabled:

Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord,
your grace into our hearts,
that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son
was made known by the message of an Angel,
may by his Passion and Cross
be brought to the glory of his Resurrection.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

And this brings me to the second point: that God works in small ways should not surprise us.  Jesus Himself tells us in Matthew 17:20 that with faith as small as a mustard seed, the smallest of seeds “Nothing will be impossible for you.”  The smallest of actions, if done in Christ have, as Pope Benedict writes: “within it the infinite potentialities of heaven”. WOW – the infinite potentialities of heaven! Though we might not notice it, our actions for and in Christ have a profound affect in this darkened world.  Each little act of kindness, love and faith makes an impact on those around us – it moves them, imperceptibly at first, but it moves them; it awakens them to something more and eventually, if nourished, it brings them to the salvation offered by God and was enabled through that small yes by that small young maid!

Every year the Advent season brings this message about the importance of our small actions for Christ back to my mind and heart.   During Advent have you ever noticed, when driving down a darkened neighborhood street how our eyes are drawn to that one house with its Christmas lights aglow!  Darkness all around and one shining house – we hunger for that light, that happiness illuminating from it.  It becomes our focus for a brief moment as we drive past.  Then our eyes start to search for the next glowing house within that darkness, and then the next.  And when we turn a corner and multiple houses are shining with lights our hearts leap for joy!  Well, at least that is what happens to me; and it strikes me that in a symbolic way those houses are me; they are us.  Our actions, in Christ, are those single houses with their lights burning in the midst of the darkened world. People notice what we are and why we are like that; and though they might not relate to it at first, maybe even be resistant to it; deep down within they delight in what they have witnessed in us and they look for more.  Through our small actions of love; our small yes to God – the infinite enters their hearts and they desire more.  By our actions we are small houses aglow with the glorious illumination of Christ!

May each of us, by our small faith brighten the hearts of those driving by our lives.

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