Advent has begun, and though our intentions may be good, when the season comes to a close we could find that it came and went without our ever having delved into its richness and beauty, but that instead we spent the time trying to ‘beat the clock’ to Christmas. It is true that for some this time can be stressful rather than filled with the joy which is truly at the heart of the season. But these four weeks do offer us an opportunity to deepen our lives of faith as we await the coming of Jesus; there is a way to keep a healthy balance between our ‘secular’ activities and spiritual life. If we look to the Scripture readings for each Sunday of Advent (and better yet, if we pray with the readings for each day of the season) and reflect upon their message throughout the week which follows, we can immerse ourselves in Advent themes. It does take discipline to keep Jesus as our focus when things get busy, but we do not have to avoid the various activities and festivities which present themselves. In fact, we can sanctify every aspect of these next weeks by consciously doing everything with our heart centered on the coming of Christ.
Advent begins with a sense of anticipation for all that is to come throughout the season, culminating at Christmas. So when we hear the opening words of the first (Sunday) reading of Advent, we can begin to direct every aspect of our December journey toward becoming infused with the sacred: “The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah. In those days, in that time, I will raise up for David a just shoot; he shall do what is right and just in the land.” (Jeremiah 33:14-15)* With these words we are reminded that no matter what happens in the next four weeks, the most important thing is to remember that God fulfills His promises because of His great love, always within the context of mercy and justice. As we prepare for Christmas and desire to participate in the season of Advent without losing its richness, we can look to all of our encounters as opportunities for offering mercy and being just; that is, to act with respect for the dignity of others. Not only will Advent become a time of great depth, but we will grow in holiness, preparing for the return of the Lord in due course.
The Old Testament readings for the Sundays of the first two weeks of Advent, respectively from the Book of Jeremiah and the Book of Baruch, are a good place to begin, and a little background will help in understanding the connection between the two men. Jeremiah was a major prophet and Baruch was Jeremiah’s scribe, recording his prophecies. Thus, the prophecies and letters in the Book of Jeremiah, the Book of Lamentations, and the Book of Baruch are all the words of Jeremiah as recorded by Baruch. They were friends, and to Baruch’s credit, he was one of the few who stuck with Jeremiah when all others turned against him. But Baruch was not a prophet! Despite this fact, Baruch teaches us a profound lesson: we can live prophetically without having to be a prophet!
There is an important distinction about what it meant to be a prophet in the Old Testament. The Hebrew word which is translated to ‘prophet’ is ‘nabi,’ which means “God’s mouthpiece.” Prophets did not foretell the future; rather, they confronted the people when God was displeased with their behavior, (breaking the covenant), and then tried to encourage a return to God lest calamity would befall them. God did give the prophet knowledge of what could happen if the people persisted in their sinfulness, but the prophet had no way of knowing if it would actually happen or how it would happen because they did not know how the people would respond. The prophet was a messenger and therefore he (or she)** was not a judge of the people: judging was God’s job. Thus, Jeremiah was a ‘mouthpiece’ for God, speaking His word consistently for many years. Since Baruch was the man who recorded Jeremiah’s words, we could say he was ‘the mouthpiece for the mouthpiece.’ Or we could say that he learned to live prophetically by literally following in the footsteps of Jeremiah, going where he went, assisting him, and even risking his own life by rescuing him from prison as Jerusalem fell. Baruch made sure the words of Jeremiah found their audience, often doing so quite heroically and at great risk to his own safety.
In the Old Testament reading for the First Sunday of Advent, Jeremiah proclaims the fulfillment of God’s promise through the coming of the Messiah (Jeremiah 33:14-16). And on the Second Sunday we hear: “Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning… put on the splendor of glory from God forever,” and that "God is leading Israel in joy by the light of His glory, with His mercy and justice for company.” (Baruch 5:1-9) In this, Baruch emphasizes another lesson in living prophetically: to live with hope. While the gospels for these same weeks are seemingly in stark contrast, and one describes the coming of Christ on a day that will “assault them” (Luke 21:35), we need to remember that the message there is intended for those who are not prepared for Jesus to return because they have rejected God outright or have neglected any kind of relationship with Him. For them, the coming of Jesus will be difficult: His judgment, even though accompanied by mercy, will be sudden and severe. But for those who have heeded the message of Jeremiah, as revealed by Baruch, hope lies in being prepared through the sincerity of our love, (not in our perfection): for the faithful, mercy will be the mainstay, and judgment will find them worthy and ready. These readings are a strong lesson in prophetic living, which is that we live with hope and that our hope should be shared.
Thus, Baruch teaches us that to live prophetically is to have the hope which prepares us at every moment for the Messiah to come into our midst. He teaches us that to be heroic in our hope we need to make sure the message is shared. He teaches us to seek mercy and to give it, and he teaches us to be just in order to work toward greater justice in the world. Finally, Baruch teaches us that we must learn to listen and discern. To have aligned with Jeremiah who was treated as a pariah, and to have spent his life writing and distributing his words meant that Baruch had to pray about what he heard and to recognize whether the message was consistent with what God had revealed in the past. Therefore, he had to truly hear the message, pray over it, and then act upon it.
In order to enter into Advent more fully we need to act as a messenger in the way in which Baruch did. That means we listen to the Lord in our prayer and we reflect over the words of the Advent Scripture readings, letting them take root in our hearts. It only takes a few minutes each day to do this. And like Baruch, we must be willing to act a bit heroically with kindness, peace, and love. We do this by offering respect and dignity (through our time, talent, and/or treasure) to the poor, the lonely, the downtrodden, the depressed, the ill, the marginalized, and the outcast, welcoming them into our friendship. We need to let mercy and justice be our company, bringing love to those who are without it, forgiving those who have wronged us, and working for a more just world through our actions. We must break down the walls of prejudice and hatred by being open to the alien and welcoming to the stranger. We must be an example of mercy and compassion to those who are not merciful and compassionate. In doing so, we will be living the message of the One for whom we wait: Jesus.
This way of living is not only prophetic living, it is Advent living. It is inviting the Word into our world anew, preparing a place for Jesus in our heart so His love can transform our seasonal activities: all our celebrations with friends and families, our dinner preparations, gift choosing and giving, our singing and decorating, become the secular made sacred. Letting everything in our lives become sanctified is what the spiritual life is about. Therefore, we look to the day of Jesus’ coming with joy knowing that “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (Luke 3:6) As we ready the stable for His arrival, and as we ready our hearts to greet Him, let us rejoice that when Jesus comes, He will have mercy and justice for company.
May we welcome the season of Advent! May we have the discipline to spend quality time with the Scriptures of Advent every day! May we recognize the presence of God who comes with mercy and justice for company! May we be inspired by the friendship of Jeremiah and Baruch, that we might be filled with gratitude for the friends who accompany us! May we be like Baruch, willing to spread God’s message in word and deed! And may we find comfort in all the holy ones who come to us during Advent, John the Baptist, the angel Gabriel, Mary and Joseph, Zechariah and Elizabeth, who teach us how to wait in reflection and joyful expectation, and then to act on what we learn! Let us meet in our prayer, awaiting the birth of our Lord, Jesus! Maranatha! Come, Emmanuel, come!
©Michele L. Catanese
* The translation I am using for all the Scripture passages is the New American Bible.
** By the definition I have used, Deborah, (Book of Judges) was considered a prophet.
Note: Next post will be December 17.
1. This is a photo I took on a rare snow day in Houston a few years back. The lemon on the tree, and all the plants, were 'surprised' by snow in December that year. I chose this picture for the opening of the entry because it seemed like winter, and obviously Advent, was in a hurry to come that year. There is a lesson in readiness here.
2. This incredible painting is called The Appearance of Christ Before the People, by Russian artist Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov. (1837-57) I love this because it shows Jesus coming over a hill into the scene as John the Baptizer points to Him declaring: "Behold, the Lamb of God!" The future apostles Peter, Andrew, John, and Nathaniel are there, as well as the rich young man who would have an encounter with Jesus later on. I found this on a website which is worth a look at, (Aletieia) along with other artistic works, and that is where I obtained the explanation as well. https://aleteia.org/slideshow/slideshow-russian-art-goes-to-the-vatican
3. This is an icon of Jeremiah and Baruch which is housed in the Heritage Museum in Amsterdam. It was one of the few icons I could find which depicted both men.
4. I took this photo of Mont Blanc in the French Alps during a recent trip to Europe. I thought it would be appropriate here because it speaks of the glory and splendor of God.
5. Since I emphasized that prophetic living includes living with hope which we share, it only seemed right that I have this icon accompany the text. This is Mother of Holy Hope, by Fr. William Hart McNichols. It would be inappropriate, in my mind, to write an Advent blog without a pregnant Mary accompanying it. No one speaks to Advent more than Mary, the Mother of our Lord. You can find this icon at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/mother-of-holy-hope-263-william-hart-mcnichols.html
6 & 7. I chose to use the Advent wreath with one candle lit since this will be posted for the first week in Advent. But since I referred to the readings of week 1 and 2, and because I will not be posting again until week 3, it seemed like there should be both candles lit at the end of the post.
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