The Advent Retreat invites you into the Sunday scripture readings that take us back in time before Jesus’ birth into the centuries of longing for the messiah, the prince of peace. Jump into any of the four reflections. Pause. Take time for a little solitude in the midst of the rush of December. Look for the light in the rich seed time of our world in its winter sleep, its long evenings when it is good to be home.
Tap into your own spiritual energy. Remember all you are about and value. Fit God into the picture again. Breath.
Before beginning this week’s retreat read the scripture selections for the second Sunday of Advent:
Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11
2 Peter 3:8-14
Isaiah’s words, “Comfort, give comfort to my people,” which begin the passage in Sunday’s reading, are also the opening words of Handel’s great “Messiah.” If you are familiar with that moving melody, let it resound in your mind as you celebrate Advent.
These next words from Isaiah also provide the text for the next part of the “Messiah”:
In the desert prepare the way of the Lord!
Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!
Every valley shall be filled in.
every mountain and hill shall be made low;
the rugged land shall be made a plain,
the rough country, a broad valley.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all the people shall see it together;
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
These words announce the role of John the Baptist who will come later to prepare the way for the Christ. John the Baptist, who is the last of the Old Testament prophets and the first of the New Testament prophets, saw his mission as preparing the people for the coming of the Messiah.
We hear the voices of Isaiah and John the Baptist throughout Advent. John takes his role seriously, pointing always to Jesus. Always humble, he says he is not worthy to stoop and loosen the sandals of the Christ. However, he did not hesitate to speak the truth courageously to those in authority like Herod the great.
Light two candles and place yourself in God’s presence. Ask yourself what valleys in your life need to be filled and what mountain needs to be made low. In walking your path this Advent are you aware of your need for the repentance and forgiveness which John the Baptist preached?
In your life who has been a John the Baptist for you, pointing you toward a closer following of Christ? How have you pointed someone else to a deeper relationship with Christ?
John appears a number of times in the readings for Advent. His annunciation and birth parallel that of Jesus. You remember the stories of Mary going to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, when she was expecting the birth of her son. All were amazed at the birth of the son of Zachary and Elizabeth and at the name the angel told his father to give him. The name “John” means “beloved of God.”
Isaiah, John, and Mary are traditionally considered the major figures, and our guides, as we move through Advent. They all point to and present Jesus to the world.
The angel’s announcement to Mary expresses all the hopes of the people of the Old Testament and their longing for the Messiah. Messages from God are always something extraordinary but come within the ordinariness of life. Most likely Mary is not kneeling at a prie-dieu, as later paintings suggested, but doing the ordinary tasks of a first-century Palestinian woman.
At the time the angel says, “You have found favor with God,” Mary has already been living in God’s grace but has yet to accept it more fully. The angel’s message is the Good News or “gospel” of all time.
Mary’s question, “How can this be?” shows that she was practical and matter-of-fact. The answer to this question comes when the angel tells her that her elderly cousin, Elizabeth, is six months pregnant. This news reassures Mary that “nothing is impossible with God.”
Mary’s response is the first and greatest proclamation of Christian faith. Calling herself “handmaid” or “servant of the Lord” foreshadow the Acts of the Apostles where Christians are called servants and “handmaids” of the Lord.
On no other authority than her own does Mary say “yes.” This response reveals a great deal about Mary’s sense of self and about her trust in God. Because Mary is so completely receptive to God’s word, she is a disciple of Jesus even before his birth.
Reflect for a moment on the angel’s words to Mary, so familiar to Catholics: “Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.”
At the Annunciation Mary has heard “nothing will be impossible for God.” And the impossible has already happened to each woman. For both Mary and Elizabeth God has raised up the lowly in a surprise action and allows something beyond ordinary human experience.
As Mary enters the house of Zachary and Elizabeth, Elizabeth’s joy is marvelous. She greets Mary with three breathless statements, each beginning with the word, “blessed.” “Blessed are you among women … blessed is the fruit of your womb … blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
This burst of beatitude is prompted, of course, by the leaping of child (John the Baptist) in Elizabeth’s womb and by her being filled with the Holy Spirit just as Mary has been at the Annunciation. Elizabeth, the older woman, to whom God has also done great things, is overwhelmed. She cries out, “Who am I that the mother of my Lord has come to me?”
Picture these two women embracing one another. How is Mary’s relationship with Elizabeth like your relationship with a close friend or relative? Advent is a time to pray for and care for women who are pregnant. May they be blessed.
Visit again on Sunday, December 11th for Living in Hope: Advent Reflections