Christmas - Related Content
Can you feel the energy in the air as we continue our journey of Advent towards the celebration of Christmas? It reminds me of dragging my feet across the carpet and experiencing a small shock of static electricity when I touch another object or person. These little jolts serve as tiny wake up calls to the present—where I am and what I’m doing (which is laughing or shrieking, depending on the intensity of the charge).
The Scripture passages for the Third Sunday of Advent are powerfully charged too. We hear from Isaiah (35:1-6A, 10) encouragement to rejoice all that we have been waiting for because it’s here. Put on your party clothes, play your favorite song and dance out of the pure joy of being alive today! Shake off any remaining fear and let it permeate your soul! Sure, you may get a few curious looks but who knows—maybe a spontaneous, two-minute dance party can reignite delight lost in the piles of paperwork, emails and texts. After all, joy is contagious.
This week, in the words of the Gospel of Matthew (11:2-11), concern is transformed into joy as Jesus sends John the Baptists’ disciples back to him with good news. I imagine them with effervescent excitement, in animated conversation, rushing their way back to tell John. But let’s stop and take a breath for a moment. This stretch along the road of Scripture is a great place in which to pause; to reflect upon and rejoice in affirmation you’ve received for endeavors you’ve poured your life energy into. How did you feel? Did you bubble over with excitement? I did, when I ministered as a pastoral associate. Each week during Advent, we invited parishioners to come through the doors and breathe; to take time to connect with God and set worry, the commercial hustle and bustle, aside. I’ll always cherish the witness to such joy I was so fortunate to experience.
The searing questions we hear on the lips of Jesus are held in tension with this sense of Advent joy. Caught in this whirlwind of emotions from somewhere deep inside there is opportunity for “Ah ha” moments. One can imagine the faces of those gathered around Jesus curling into smiles as they realize the joy of the divine secret revealed, and their own discovery of what this news means for their own lives. The gift and the receiving and the rejoicing already existed before them, just as it is for us over 2,000 years later.
We know that the joy we feel radiating from the illuminated candles of Advent can be found at any moment, all around us. Each ecstatic experience has the power to reignite the hope that lies—sometimes dormant—within us, and encounters of the divine can be conduits of discernment. Stop and feel the current that powers your heart as you visit congregations and explore possible mission-motivated ministries—the vocation that may shine from deep inside of you.
So this week, as you take in the reflection of the light of Advent, let it illuminate all the joy in your life.
Where is the joy in your heart leading in discernment?
Can you see what triggers that eternal spark?
Photo by Sister Amy Taylor, FSPA
I am a fan of holiday movies. In a span of two hours plots develop with a challenge in the life of the main characters that invites reflection, followed by a new choice. Usually the story has a happy ending but not before they face the reality of the situation before them. It’s the lesson of conversion dressed up in holiday clothing; a Gospel value renewed for the season.
I also enjoy Advent, the second week of which is now upon us. The dual message of Scripture is hope and conversion—hope, even when we are asked to examine the truth of who we are. In light of this wonderment I’m choosing to make time to continue unpacking the richness of Sunday’s readings—that which invites all of us to be in the present moment, not race ahead to Christmas as the commercial world advises. The messages we receive during Mass should not dissipate with the recessional. Our tradition calls us to allow the verses to stir in our hearts and move us to action throughout the week.
Isaiah declares the transformation that will unfold with the coming of the Lord: an end to of domination and competition. I recently read an inspiring story about an athlete who competed with integrity; putting the unfortunate fall of a competitor before her own drive to victory. She personifies the time to come right now, today, as she made a choice countercultural in not only the world of sports but also in life. This one act of kindness shines the light of Advent hope for all the world to see.
The Gospel (Matthew 3:1-12) summons us to take Isaiah’s message a step further. Herald of the Good News, John the Baptist cuts through facades and invites each person to the depth of Christian discipleship; to make way for the Gospel message in our hearts and in the world. The reading sounds harsh when we are also living in moments of happy Christmas anticipation; from driving around to see the lights adorning homes to watching holiday specials on television (I could curl up in front of the TV and watch Hallmark Channel Christmas movies 24/7). We long to wrap ourselves in festive yuletide experiences; to leave anything that conjures negative feelings or remembrance of bad choices hidden away on the top shelf. After all, who wants to think about sin while eating cookies and listening to holiday music? It feels like a contradiction. But by listening to the wise advice of John the Baptist, one is reminded that such effort brings deeper reward.
This Advent season the invitation is clear—amidst the work we must also make way for hope in our hearts. Discernment is full of hope: hope of what God is calling you to; hope of what the church will receive in the gift of your life offered to others; hope of a new day when all will reach out to those in need. Each time you take time to examine who you are, what your motives are, you become a stronger herald of the Gospel no matter where discernment leads. John’s message of conversion is present in the experience.
What will you do this week to take the messages of Isaiah and John the Baptist to heart in your discernment?
What is your greatest hope—as gift to both yourself and to the world—for the outcome of your discernment?
"... a visual sign of what was to come."
Image courtesy of Daisies & Pie
When I was young child, we began the month of December at school by making green and red construction paper chains — learning how to mark time link-by-link until Christmas. We arrived at the classroom each morning ready to tear away another slip of red or green and inch closer to the big day. I imagine the ritual, a visual sign of what was to come, curtailed our continual Christmas count-down questions for the teacher. It was a reminder — a connection of our fervent dreams to the special time to come. Looking back at the experience I realize it also helped us learn how to wait for something together, as a group. Without fancy theological concepts in our seven-year-old brains, we became a community of believers.
Now, in our fourth week of Advent, the readings serve as a link in salvation history. The Old Testament prophet Micah is the wise teacher reminding the faithful of a time to come. They too struggled with how long the wait would be. But hope withstands like a long, invisible chain, linking the moments until the celebration can begin.
In the Gospel, we skip ahead in time to beyond the angel’s visit to Mary and her “yes” to becoming the mother of Jesus. She wastes not a moment; runs straight out the door, bursting with excitement to share the joyful news with her cousin Elizabeth. And in nine short months, Mary beholds the face of God in the birth of Jesus.
Each Advent, over 2,000 years after Jesus‘ birth, we recall this story and challenge ourselves to make room for Jesus in our hearts. Time is of the essence as this year the day of is just a mere 24 hours after the fourth Sunday of Advent. The moment is now upon us. Is your heart ready for the celebration you have been anticipating?
For additional pondering this week ...
How will the celebration of the birth of Jesus change your life, not just a month in your calendar of events?
How does Mary’s example of moving on God’s invitation without hesitation inspire you to take the next step in your own vocational call?
Are you discerning religious life? Walking with someone who is? We invite you to share this link, www.fspa.org/showmeasign, and join the conversation. And, stay tuned to Show me a sign for new videos in the FSPA discernment series!
What experiences in your life inspire trust and new discernment steps?
Image courtesy freeimages.com
Joy is contagious. Ask a child you know, “How do you feel with Christmas just two weeks away?” Their eyes light up; they dance in place as joy beyond words escapes their little body, their whole being. It’s a jubilance that many of us share on the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, which means rejoice! The rose-colored candle on the Advent wreath casts a warm reassuring glow as there is joy in the waiting.
And it’s a joy that can also fill discernment of religious life.
The prophet Isaiah exuberantly expresses the providence of God in our first reading. With lavish care, God shows his great love with not just one small example but with expansive artistry that transforms the parched, scorched, barren spaces in our lives to be places of great beauty.
Pondering the magnificence of this image, I can’t help but recall the photos of the super bloom that happened in California this past March. The images of the flowers I saw online were captivating, the colors amazing. They gave me a sense of hope amid continual snow showers still occurring in Wisconsin at the time; thoughts of spring sure to come encouraged me every time I had to pick up my shovel. Signs of hope in the midst of trial aid the cultivation of resilience and patience.
James, in the second reading, reminds us that waiting produces maturity and bounty. Patience also generates endurance. While we desire the days leading to celebration to pass quickly, time moves at the pace of its own wisdom. In discernment, you may be waiting in joyful anticipation for a sign revealing to you where you see yourself living fully into the person God calls you to be, to the congregation in which you can best fulfill your gifts. Visiting and praying and pondering are actions, investments, essential for finding your future happiness.
As we turn our attention to the Gospel, to John the Baptist, all of these gifts — joy, patience and endurance — come to fruition. He has been faithful to his prophetic mission and the world rewarded him with imprisonment. He dared to speak the truth to power. You may ask, where is joy in prison? John did not lose all hope: he took action by sending his disciples to learn more about Jesus.
Can you imagine the joy his disciples carried as they rushed back to share the good news of the growing belief in Jesus with the man who inspired their own choices to follow Jesus? The joy of good news is contagious.
Perhaps when you share the good news of your discernment, others may also be inspired to consider religious life.
Advent in action:
What are the joys you celebrate in your discernment on this Gaudete Sunday?
What experiences in your life, those that deepen joy and your relationship with God, inspire trust and new steps in discernment?
Are you discerning religious life? Walking with someone who is? We invite you to share this link, www.fspa.org/showmeasign, and join the conversation.