Today’s Readings: Isaiah 63:16b–17, 19b; 64:2–7; Psalm 80:2–3, 15–16, 18–19 (4); 1 Corinthians 1:3–9; Mark 13:33–37. We start Advent with joyful anticipation. It’s like welcoming into our homes a dear friend or relative whom we haven’t seen for a while. There’s probably a flurry of cleaning, grocery shopping, and cooking—all done with delight. When we look forward to renewing a close relationship, the preparation isn’t burdensome. Though tiring, it’s happy. Jesus tells the disciples in today’s Gospel: Don’t be snoozing when an important visitor arrives. Be alert, awake, and as watchful as people are at an airport, searching the crowd for a beloved face.
How much more carefully we await the arrival of God! Although God is already with us, always and everywhere, our Advent preparations highlight that presence, helping us become more aware. If we are lulled into unconsciousness by the anesthesia of busy schedules or over-familiarity, Advent is the wake-up call. Look at what richness surrounds us. See how blessed we are. Do we look for God like the Gospel’s gatekeeper, with a sharp eye? Or do we surrender our spirituality for the artificial cheer of sales and malls?
One way of marking time, a way honored by Christians for centuries, is the Advent wreath. This circle of pine with four candles can become the center for Advent prayer, reflection, and song. It reminds us to pause, breathe deeply of its fragrance, and remember what distinguishes this time of year from the rest.
Today’s Readings: Isaiah 40:1–5, 9–11; Psalm 85:9–10, 11–12, 13–14 (8); 2 Peter 3:8–14; Mark 1:1–8. The people of John the Baptist’s day, like people today, would have expected any profound religious announcement to come in its proper place: from the rabbi in the synagogue. Instead, an unorthodox preacher appeared in the Judean desert and attracted a crowd. Naturally, people might be suspicious. He didn’t use polite language or worry about disturbing comfort zones. Yet those too distracted by strangeness to pay attention would miss an important message. How sad to miss the Christ to whom John the Baptist points!
What unlikely prophets live among us? What surprising spirituality have we encountered where we least expected it? What might we be missing? Especially if we’re comfortable churchgoers, we need a herald like John to shake up our own infallibility. It’s sadly easy to enshrine our personal opinions and mistake our preferences for universal ideals. In the spiritual life, some uncertainty, especially regarding our impeccable selves, is useful.
Create a household “meditation piece” with some objects from today’s Gospel. Arrange on sand or sandpaper a small dish of honey, a bowl of water, and a sandal. Each time you pass or pause there, consider these questions: What surprises has God sent me today? Where do they point? What message might I miss because it makes me uncomfortable?
Today’s Readings: Isaiah 61:1–2a, 10–11; Responsorial Psalm: Luke 1:46–48, 49–50, 53–54; John 1:6–8, 19–28. Today’s Gospel passage introduces two symbols that recur throughout the Gospel according to John, symbols full of meaning during Lent: light and water. In today’s verses, Jesus is called “the light.” Later in chapter 8 (v. 12), Jesus calls himself “the light of the world,” which will enlighten everyone. In John 9, he cures the blind man and criticizes those who think they see light but are really blind.
In today’s passage we learn that John baptizes with water, a symbol Jesus helps us understand later when he promises to give the Samaritan woman living water gushing up into eternal life (John 4:4–42). Jesus walks on water to his frightened disciples in chapter 6 (v. 16–21), and on the Feast of Tabernacles he promises, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and . . . drink” (7:37). From Christ, living water will flow into believers. At the Last Supper, Jesus tells a protesting Peter that he must have his feet washed in water or he will have “no share with me” (13:8). That “share” (or “inheritance”) includes the long flow of God’s love that began in Genesis and continues through our day.
In a terrible irony, the source of refreshment will be Christ himself, thirsty on the cross (John 19:28). When the soldier pierces Jesus’ side, “blood and water” flow out (19:34), an image that adds even more intensity to this symbol of Christian Baptism.
Today’s Readings: 2 Samuel 7:1–5, 8b–12, 14a, 16; Psalm 89:2–3, 4–5, 27, 29 (2a); Romans 16:25–27; Luke 1:26–38. Notice the angel Gabriel’s first word to Mary: “Rejoice” (in the revised New American Bible; in The New Revised Standard Version Bible, “Greetings”). Let’s remember that word this week, which can be one of the most hectic weeks in the year. The angel says, “rejoice,” not “spend, clean, cook, decorate, shop, bake, wrap, shop again, create the perfect holiday ambiance, work to exhaustion, and make everyone in the family sublimely happy.”
We want to share in this rejoicing because Jesus has become one with humans; indeed, he has pitched his tent within us. None of us deserves this, so we celebrate God’s lavish abandon, the pure gratuity of God’s gift. Yet even in the scripture, there is some ambiguity in the joy of this holy time. At the angel’s greeting, Mary is “much perplexed.” Indeed, the whole experience is for her a two-edged sword: joy tempered by natural, human fear.
This week, we’ll hear two songs of praise: Mary’s (on Thursday) and Zechariah’s (on Saturday). Mary’s song overcomes the doubt and fear she must have felt. Zechariah’s breaks a long silence, welcomes new possibility, and expresses a hard-won trust in God—and his wife. Plan to read aloud the nativity story on Christmas Eve.