In our culture many people are ready to ‘pack it up’ the day after Christmas and move on to the next holiday. What a shame since that would be truly missing the point. Those of us who are Christian know that what we were preparing for through Advent was the birth of Jesus, such a profound event that we celebrate it for nearly three weeks. It is too big a celebration to be ‘contained’ in only one day of feasting. Therefore, December 25 does not end a season, but rather begins one: Christians are only getting started with the festivity! The Christmas season is a celebration of how God bent low, as the Franciscans love to say, coming from Heaven to enter into our world so that one day we might leave our world to enter into His, so to speak; that is, to enter into Heaven.* This is the cause for our great rejoicing. Of course we might feel a little tired after all the preparations and gatherings throughout December, especially on Christmas Day. But should we feel a bit spent because the pre-Christmas celebrations took a bit out of us, all is not lost: since Christmas is just beginning, there is still opportunity to reflect upon the mysteries of this season, especially that Jesus came into the world in the most miraculous way with love beyond all telling. Hopefully our meditation will also focus on what happened after Christ’s birth with the coming of the shepherds and Magi, and with the time of Mary and Joseph presenting Jesus in the Temple for circumcision and naming. For the Holy Parents this would have been as joyous as His birth because of the tremendous meaning contained in the rituals. And as for the shepherds, Magi, and a prophet named Simeon, they would have been ecstatic because they had seen the Lord. Thus, in this season we are invited to see the Lord along with them.
When Jesus was born the shepherds experienced angels from on high singing ‘Glory to God’ and the Magi had a star to guide them. But when Mary and Joseph brought the baby Jesus into the Temple, Simeon had no such assistance. All he would have observed was a Jewish mother and father bringing their infant son in for his presentation to the priests. As observant, devout Jews, Mary and Joseph were driven by their love for God as well as their understanding of the Law; they would have looked to the 8th day after birth when their baby boy would be marked with the sign of their faith, circumcision, just like every other Jewish male. This sign marked their Son as a true son of Abraham, of which Jesus literally was. (See the genealogy in Matthew 1) It was also on this occasion that a baby was named and so this was when He officially received the name Jesus. Presentation was a tremendous milestone since it completed the birth, so to speak, a cause for great joy in their hearts. The Christmas season offers reflection upon this wonderful event and therefore, we are invited into their joy.
We are also invited to reflect upon the Holy Family as they were approached by Simeon while leaving the Temple. When the prophet laid eyes on Jesus he joyfully prayed: “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace….for my eyes have seen your salvation which you prepared in the sight of all the people…” (Luke 2:29-32) God granted this holy, faithful man the desire of his heart which was to see the Messiah who he now recognized as God come to earth. But how did he do this? As a person of prayer and reflection, he had grown in trust and in love, learning to recognize the presence of God; it is as simple as that. Simeon knew the suffering, hardship, and oppression which the Jewish community lived with at that time, but he rejoiced in the fulfillment of God’s promise found in Jesus. And because he was a man of prayer, he also knew both the joy and the eventual sorrow that the mother of this Child would experience.
Like Simeon, we are called during the Christmas season to learn to recognize the presence of God more keenly. However, we have been given a greater gift than seeing God. Not only can we greet Jesus, but we can receive Him into our bodies. At every Mass, the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus really present in the Eucharist is given to us. Simeon never had that, but because this Child came into the world, we do. Perhaps in our prayer after Christmas we can imagine the shepherds telling their families and other shepherds in the fields: “My eyes have seen God’s salvation! I saw God in a manger, the child named Jesus!” Or perhaps we can reflect upon the Magi returning to their land doing the same. In the Christmas season we are invited into their reverence and joy at being in the presence of Jesus. We are offered an opportunity to realize that we are so blessed that we get to do more than the shepherds, Magi, or Simeon ever could do. Christmas is a season in which we can adore God as a Child come down from Heaven, made available to all. Three weeks are dedicated to celebrating this glorious gift; along with both poor and rich, resident prophets, and foreign Magi we can take this joy into the rest of the year. That is cause for great rejoicing. And now, perhaps like Simeon, we can go forth into the new year in peace.
May we continue the celebration we began on December 25 throughout the Christmas season! May we greet Jesus with love as did the shepherds, prophets, and kings! And may we respond in joy every time we come before Him to worship and when we receive Him in the Eucharist! Let us meet in joy and adoration! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
* I am speaking metaphorically (and hopefully poetically); our world is God’s world, and Heaven is for us to spend eternity with Him.
1. Icon, The Holy Family for the Holy Family Hospital of Bethlehem, by Fr. William Hart McNichols. If you like this, you can purchase a copy in one of many mediums at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-holy-family-for-the-holy-family-hospital-of-bethlehem-william-hart-mcnichols.html (Remember, I get no remuneration for endorsing Fr. Bill's work. I just want to share the beauty!)
2. Painting, Shepherd with Sheep, by Camille Pissarro (1888).
3. Painting, Simeon in the Temple, by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, known simply as Rembrandt (1669)
4. Painting, Adoration of the Magi. I found this on a Christmas card many years ago; artist unknown.
5. My photo, Christmas light display on the Red River in Natchitoches, LA.
Note: In compliance with GDPR rules, I wish to make it clear that I do not gather any information on any of my readers at any time.
For most people December is a time of activity accompanied by an air of festivity. The thing about December, however, is that the festivity can also be somewhat chaotic as we are encouraged to cram a great deal more into this month than in any other. We attempt to accomplish everything ‘expected’, all the while trying to maintain a smile on our face as we offer “Merry Christmas!” greetings. Try as we might, the stress of all that can derail our focus, thus effecting our Advent meditation such that it is harried, or worse, slips past us almost entirely. If that description fits, then in some ways you are actually ‘doing’ Advent correctly because Advent is and should be a bit uncomfortable.* Yes, if Advent feels messy and uncomfortable, you are experiencing something like the first Advent which was most certainly just that. Nothing was in anyone’s control. There were essential preparations to be made, visitations with loved ones needed, and welcomes sought after, all in a rather short period of time with few resources to accomplish any of it. Please be clear: in the midst of the chaos and mess is great beauty, and indeed that is what we seek during Advent. But the key is to embrace the uncomfortable and let it be transformed into that which is grace-filled: that is, to adjust our focus so we recognize what God is asking us to prepare and for Whom we are preparing in the first place. If we focus our attention throughout all our activity in that light, then we are truly in the very heart of Advent.
At the first Advent the preparation for the coming of the long-awaited Messiah was quite a bit more uncomfortable than we often realize. The faithful had waited centuries for Him to come. The oppression had been consistent, their lives made miserable by the pagan Romans, and their future was uncertain. If we reflect upon some of the ‘Advent figures’ we can see just how uncomfortable it was.** For example, Zechariah was moved completely out of his 'comfort zone:' as a Sadducee he did not believe in a coming messiah, yet an angel showed up telling him that he would have a son in his old age who would usher in none other than the very messiah in whom he did not believe! It got even messier when he also lost his ability to speak. He had to learn to listen which enabled him to be opened to new understandings. This son, John the Baptist, eventually left home to live in a cave, wore rough clothing, and ate carob husks while preparing Himself for His role as forerunner of Jesus. Life for him was definitely messy and uncomfortable, especially when he brought upheaval to the status quo which eventually cost him his life.
Mary responded in word and deed to the revelation that she would be overshadowed by the Holy Spirit to bring the Son of God into the world. She immediately left comfort behind to set out for the hill country in order to serve her pregnant cousin Elizabeth, while pregnant herself. The events of Advent radically changed Joseph’s expectations for his life; like Mary he, too, had to prepare in some haste for his role as (foster) father to the Son of God. And as if that was not stressful enough, at the ‘11th hour,’ came the decree that he and his family had to get to Bethlehem immediately because of a census. As they were preparing for a quiet birth in Nazareth, and just as Mary was going to be least comfortable on a donkey’s back, they had to travel. Once in Bethlehem, they attempted to find a place to give birth, turned down at all the lodgings until they found a messy, uncomfortable stable.
What made the difference for each one was their absolute trust in God. “If God called me to this,” they may have thought, “then He will ‘see it through.’” This ought to be our disposition during this Advent: ‘If God has called me to this,’ whatever it is, whatever it entails, however it looks, and as messy or uncomfortable as it is, ‘then He will see it through.’ That is, together we will see it through. As long as we try to do it all on our own, fighting the discomfort instead of embracing it, we will get little out of Advent. But with God’s help, as we intentionally enter into the mysteries of that first Advent, it can be an inspiring and fruitful season; in fact, we will find peace and joy in the midst of the activity.*** In truth, all of life is messy and uncomfortable, but it is also beautiful; for those with eyes to see, it can be both at the same time. It is important to keep our focus on the manger and Who will be in it. What we do for family and friends during this busy season (especially when the going gets rough) is for Jesus. Our generosity to others, no matter how small we think it is, is also done for Him. Let us embrace the season with all its messiness, keeping our focus on what is most important, trusting God, and seeking Him in all we meet. If we do, Advent graces will flow as we prepare our hearts for the birth of Emmanuel, God with Us, Jesus the Lord.
May we ask the Holy Spirit to give us the grace to enter into Advent rather than to accept the notion that somehow we are not ‘into it' the way we should be! May we make an offering to God of all that is messy and uncomfortable during our preparations! May we look within the mess and discomfort to find Advent beauty! And may we find the One for Whom we seek in the midst of every activity and relationship! Let us meet at the manger! Peace! Marana tha! Come O Lord!
© Michele L. Catanese
* I am not encouraging you to neglect to pray or reflect on Advent mysteries; of course we should! And it is not to say that if Advent is peaceful there is something wrong. Rather, if it is peaceful means you are most blessed because for many folks it is far from peace-filled.
** With meditation upon all the major figures in the Infancy Narratives of Matthew and Luke in addition to the Scriptures in John’s Gospel that are about John the Baptist, it will become clear just how uncomfortable things were in their lives as they prepared for the coming of Jesus. But each of them embraced all the discomforts and uncertainties with unwavering trust in God and His call to them.
*** It is important to include within our activities some outreach to the poor and lonely; our generosity to those who lives are more uncomfortable than ours is important. For some, doing this is uncomfortable, but that is at the heart of the first Advent, too, since the One we are welcoming, will come as a baby into a humble, materially poor family who were ‘residing’ in an uncomfortable place, a stable.
1. My photo taken in Natchidoches during the lighting of the river.
2. Painting, Zechariah and the Angel in the Temple by James Tissot.
3. Icon, The Mother of God Overshadowed by the Holy Spirit by Fr. William Hart McNichols. I include this every year during Advent because it is so profound and beautiful. If you would like to purchase this icon in one of my mediums go to https://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-mother-of-god-overshadowed-by-the-holy-spirit-118-william-hart-mcnichols.html
4. My photo of my own creche scene in my home. Jesus is not yet come.
5. Clip Art, Advent Candles for Week 3, (Guadate!)
Note: In compliance with GDPR rules, I wish to make it clear that I do not gather any information on any of my readers at any time.
Heart Speaks to Heart