The last week of the liturgical year is upon us! A new season is soon to begin! Change is on the horizon! However, contrary to these announcements, this season has a habit of coming in quietly even though the culture in which we live is booming about the season after this one, ignoring this time altogether. Be that as it may, any liturgical season is meant to bring about newness and change, change being the one certain thing in this life. Advent, this new season at the start of the new liturgical year, is particularly so, given that it is about preparation for the coming of the Lord Jesus. Advent signifies change is coming and we need to be prepared. Just as we need to be prepared for the birth of the child Jesus in a new way into our lives, we need to be prepared for His coming again. That is why in Advent we end our prayers with the Aramaic phrase, "Marana tha" which means, "Our Lord, come!"
Most people dislike change, so we may cringe at the thought of it. We like the "status quo" that has settled upon us because we can handle the routine better than having to be challenged by newness. It takes more work, more energy, to handle newness. It can challenge us in ways we do not want to be challenged. "I am way too busy for this new thing," we think. What we may be intending with this thought is, “Bah, Humbug! I will not move from my comfort zone." Or it might be the attitude of: "I do not like where I am at, but the devil I know is better than the one I don't, so I am not budging." Either way, change is difficult for most of us, even if we secretly welcome it deep down.
Change means letting go, which is often very difficult. We may need to let go of a loved one in death, or we may need to let go of that which is convenient for us. We may need to learn a new way of doing things or a completely new task. We may have to change an attitude, which is the most difficult adjustment of all. Either way, change is part of life and there is nothing we can do to stop what is out of our control. But what we can do is to learn to acknowledge the reality that change will happen and to ask the Holy Spirit for the gifts of perseverance, flexibility, and acceptance. While there are things we can and should work against, such as changes that are not good for us or our world, we also need to realize that we are in a constant state of flux all of our lives. We cannot stop time and we should not stop the inner growth that comes with change.
Advent challenges us to stop our personal rush in the midst of the cultural haste at this time of year. It challenges us to hear and see, touch and taste the pregnancy of this time of preparation for Christmas. Advent impels us to the realization that without preparation Christmas will come and go with no real impact on our souls. Advent invites us to slow down to savor the mystery of an intimate encounter between God and a woman named Mary, who would have the most radical change any human can ever experience, that is, pregnancy with the Son of God. A paraphrase of what God said through the angel to Mary is: "You shall be the mother of the Son of the living God, my Son, and you shall name Him Jesus. You will be overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. Life as you know it will be totally changed because you will be pregnant miraculously without a man and you will bring salvation into the world." She said yes to this, and everything for every living creature (and those already passed) changed forever. One word changed the course of history, the course of the world: "Yes." Advent invites us to say our ‘yes’ in chorus with hers.
Advent is a time of sitting with Joseph who, already betrothed to the woman Mary, was told by her that she was pregnant, but not by any man. His world suddenly changed as he prayed about how to deal with this situation. He was open to God, and so while God explained it he, too, said yes; his world was indeed completely changed as he attempted to drink in what was really happening. There had to be the same joy as Mary had, but also some confusion as to how to bring this about. No doubt as he sat with God in prayer he realized that God was in control of the situation, so he needed not fear. It was not about his convenience or Mary's. It was not about how he had envisioned marriage to this woman or about how he had dreamed about having children with her. It was about God's plan and God's wisdom. In Advent we can bring our own situations into the space where Mary and Joseph found themselves, bringing our own thoughts of how things would go, our expectations and desires, discovering that God's way may be mysterious, but that it has purpose, even if that purpose is way beyond us at present.
In Advent we are gently encouraged to sit with pregnancy and uncertainty, opportunity and mystery. We are encouraged to be still and wonder with Mary and Joseph, Zechariah and Elizabeth just what we are getting into, all the while trusting that God understands and that is enough. We are challenged to sit in the waiting with them, and to strain to hear what may seem just beyond us, yet so near. In Advent God is whispering words of love and encouragement to each of us, to sit with our fears and the mysteries that consume our imaginations, minds, and hearts and to trust that all shall be well. It will all become clear, but not immediately.
Advent invites us into newness within our own hearts. What is stale and dusty can be renewed and spruced up. We can allow the joy of His coming to invade our hearts. We can allow the Star of Bethlehem to begin to rise within us, shedding light on what needs to be changed in order for new life to thrive within us once again. The light of that star can help us to let go of what needs to be let go of, so that those people or attitudes which we need to free can move on and transfigure as well. Advent is a type of transfiguration event, though more subtle, more gradual: that which was hidden will become visible and present among us in a new, more powerful way.
Finally, Advent reminds us to open our hearts to love. It is, of course, Love which is on its way into our lives. If we allow ourselves to become pregnant with Love in a new way, then we will allow it to come to birth in us in a new way also. Love needs the way to be cleared by the meeting of pregnant people, such as happened at the Visitation. When two who are pregnant with Love meet, there is joy and a leaping of new life within. Love needs openness to the change it will bring, so we are unlike the inns which were unwelcoming of His arrival. Love needs silence, reflection, and prayer to prepare the stable for His birth within our hearts.
Advent is a gift. Let us accept such a great gift as a time of preparation so that what follows will not overwhelm us. If we allow the changes needed within us to already take root, when the challenges become stronger, we will already be armed with faith, hope, love, and the Peace which will guide us through even the strongest of storms. Marana tha! Our Lord, come! O Lord Jesus, come soon!
May we have the gift of joyful expectation which comes to us with Advent! May we open our hearts to the pregnancy of waiting and the acceptance of the changes pregnancy brings! May we be filled with the Spirit anew, especially with the graces we need for the journey ahead! May Advent open our hearts to Love! And may we cry with full voices, “Marana tha! Our Lord, come!” Let us continue to meet in the Heart of the Lord of Love, the One who teaches us to wait! Peace! (And Happy Thanksgiving, too!)
The top picture is one I took a few years ago at Lost Maples State Park in the hill country in Texas.
The icons are by Rev. William Hart McNichols. The first is called The Mother of God Overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. (It is one of my favorites.) It can be found at http://www.fatherbill.org/gallery-views/mother-of-god-gallery/product/29-the-mother-of-god-overshadowed-by-the-holy-spirit
The second icon is called St. Joseph and the Holy Child and can be found at http://www.fatherbill.org/gallery-views/holy-men-icons/product/50-st-joseph-and-the-holy-child.
The last is of the Visitation. (sent by a friend, unknown in origin)
© Michele L. Catanese
Heart Speaks to Heart