Your Part in the Advent Story

When I was in second grade, my school did a Christmas variety show, and my class acted out the lyrics to the song “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.” I was assigned the role of “Mom” from the line: “And Mom and Dad can hardly wait for school to start again.” It was a 5-second role, and I owned it! But I’m a little sad to report that in my childhood, I never had the opportunity to be in an official church Christmas pageant. No role in a nativity play. No shepherd or angel performance. Instead, I sat in the audience more than a few times…watching the beautiful story of the birth of our Savior take place on a stage from across the room. 

I wonder how many of us approach the season of Advent that same way. We’re in the audience waiting for the show to start. We want a front row seat to watch the story of the birth of Jesus and the beauty of the first Christmas. Our role is an enjoyable but passive one. 

I would encourage you to step out of the audience and join the players on the stage! You are part of God’s ongoing story of salvation. We each have an important role to play—your role is unique, and only you can play it. Speaker and author Elizabeth M. Kelly writes: “Allow the Holy Spirit to refresh a Catholic imagination within you and to remind you that you are an integral, irreplaceable part of a much larger and more important story.”

How will you play your role this Advent season and beyond? What unique aspects of love and sincerity will you bring to your performance? Who will your scene partners be? Perhaps your part in the story is providing a listening ear to a lonely friend. You may be called to provide food and warm clothes for those in need. Your part in the story may involve making room for Jesus in your heart and in your home. Unlike the innkeeper, will Jesus find in you a place to dwell and grow and shine?

Maybe you’re not one to step into the spotlight. That’s ok! There are plenty of behind-the-scenes roles to play that are just as important. Like the lighting crew up in the rafters, maybe your role is to point that spotlight on someone else, giving them confidence and encouragement to shine. Maybe you’re being called to be part of God’s “stage crew,” organizing and setting the stage for projects and programs that will help others.

However you decide to take part in God’s story, it’s important that you realize how valued and essential you are. The “Christmas Story” would not be complete without you!

Light in the Darkness

Have you ever experienced the disorienting feeling of being plunged into darkness? Years ago my family and I were touring Echo Dell Cavern, a natural limestone cave near Hershey, Pennsylvania. The pathways through the cavern were well lit but at one point in the tour—with plenty of advanced warning—they turned off all the lights to give us a sense of how dark and deep the caves are. It was a jarring experience to be surrounded by such darkness. It was really true that you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. I was OK at first, but the pitch blackness started to feel suffocating, and my heart began to race before they finally put the lights back on. What a relief to be surrounded by light! It brought to my mind the very first verses from the Book of Genesis:

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.
(Genesis 1:1-3)

During challenging times, it’s easy to feel as if our world is covered in darkness. We feel stifled and smothered by the blackness. It brings me comfort to remember that God created light and this light never goes away. Our experiences may leave us feeling lost in the dark, but we always have access to the light. God’s light is a promise—that there will be no more darkness. Every moment you spend with God, you are living in the light. The more you cultivate your relationship with God, the brighter your world will become, even when darkness continues to spread in your life or in the world.

What does it mean to live in the light?

LIGHT REVEALS

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

In the Bible, light represents truth and God’s revelation. On Mount Horeb, God revealed himself to Moses through the light of the burning bush. Jesus came to be that Light, so that we might know God. To live in the light is to know God and to believe that God loves us, chooses us, and blesses us. When you feel frustrated that God remains hidden, you can seek out His revelation in prayer, Scripture, nature, or loving relationships in your life. Every time you have an encounter with God, your life becomes flooded with light.

LIGHT ILLUMINATES

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. (Psalm 119:105)

Times are dark right now, and every decision we make seems fraught with consequences that bring fear and uncertainty. When we are lost in the darkness, God’s love lights the way. The light of Jesus shines on our path so we know which way we should go. Fear, temptation, doubt, or stubbornness might lead us away from the path God has chosen for us, but God’s light is always there to lead us back. Through a type of prayer called discernment, we can ask God what are the right choices to make. And we can be confident that God will lead us in the right direction.

LIGHT BANISHES DARKNESS

The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear?  (Psalm 27:1)

If darkness represents fear, then light is the antidote to that fear. As long as we are connected to God in our faith, we no longer have to be afraid. Our God is powerful enough to create light out of the formless void! Surely we can lean on God when we are afraid. The next time fear grips you, don’t let yourself drown in it. Keep your eyes fixed on God’s light and the dark fears will slowly recede.

LIGHT SPREADS

Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. (Matthew 5:15)

I can think of no sight more inspiring and beautiful than a candlelight vigil. A crowd of people coming together, each one bearing a single candle, until the space shines bright with light and hope. No matter how dark the world around us may seem at times, we are children of light. It is our responsibility and our challenge to be light for others. To let it shine into the darkest corners of the world.

Advent is a wonderful time to reflect on the Light in the darkness. As you light the candles on your Advent wreath, turn on your Christmas tree lights, or hit the road in the search of Christmas light displays, take some time to ponder the meaning of that light. Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).  

My prayer for you today is that the Light of the Advent season will bring you PEACE and HOPE.

AMEN!

The Wonder of Waiting

Advent is a season of waiting. A time to prepare for the coming of Christ. A period of anticipation. In general, how do you view the experience of waiting? Some people find it very difficult. They don’t have the patience or the trust to let the process unfold the way it’s meant to. (There are plenty of times when I fall into this category!) Research has shown that over the years people expect things to happen faster and faster. The pace of pedestrians walking on sidewalks has sped up. Road rage is more common. Waiting in line feels like agony for many people.

Other people welcome waiting because of how they choose to view it—as an act of anticipation instead of a waste of time. I have always felt that looking forward to an exciting event (a trip, a party, a special occasion) was just as enjoyable as the event itself. My husband tells me I live my life “looking forward to the next thing.” During this year of the pandemic, we’ve all been forced to put many of our plans on hold. It’s not easy, particularly in celebrating the holidays. My niece, Lucy —in her lovely optimistic way—predicted that next year, our holiday season will feel all the more joyful, because of how long we had to wait to gather with our families. Every hug will feel like a small miracle. The waiting is incredibly painful right now, but the joy that will come fills me with hope and excitement.

The season of Advent ushers in the coming of Christ, but we aren’t simply remembering that long-ago time of waiting for the birth of Jesus, something that happened 2000 years ago. Our waiting is active, and present, and alive. During Advent, there are three layers to our waiting:

  • Waiting for Jesus to be born (past)
  • Waiting for Jesus to come into our lives every day (present)
  • Waiting for Jesus to come again in glory (future)

It’s the second one—the everyday waiting—that I’m focused on these days. My college-aged sons have a car now, so when they come home from school, I never quite know when they’ll arrive. That excited feeling of wondering when they’ll walk through the door is so filled with hope. What if we approached every day with this sense of faith-filled anticipation? When or how will Christ come to us today? When will Jesus walk through the door of our hearts?

Each day brings opportunities for an encounter with our loving God…during a phone call with a friend, a walk with a family member, or an email exchange with a co-worker. Or you may find God while walking in the woods, admiring a sunset, or listening to the ocean. Christ may come to you in your art—through music, writing or any creative act.

In Latin, Advent means “coming,” not “finding.” We don’t have to go out and search for Jesus. Christ will come no matter what—that’s the core of our belief as Christians. We simply have to notice when He comes into our lives. This is a daily invitation—not just for the four weeks of Advent—but for every day throughout the year. Wake up each morning and ask yourself: “When will I encounter God today?” These moments are easy to miss when we’re preoccupied and distracted, so be awake and watchful in your waiting. Hold onto that excited feeling of waiting for a beloved family member to walk through the door, and I promise you won’t miss the moment when Jesus comes to you in your day.

Maranatha
Come, Lord Jesus!

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

What Makes Your Life Full?

night sky remember quote

The essence of wisdom is remembering what we already know.
So what is it that we already know?

We know that God is always with us.
But do we REMEMBER to feel His loving presence during difficult times?
We know how important it is to spend quiet time in prayer.
Do we REMEMBER to break from our hectic schedules to pray or sit in the stillness?
We know that God called us from the womb, a precious creation in His own image.
Do we REMEMBER to value ourselves as gift?
We know that Jesus died for us.
Do we REMEMBER to reflect on the enormity of that sacrifice
and what it means for us?

Life is FULL of distractions, interruptions, interferences, disruptions.
We say we’re busy, chaotic, hectic, frenzied.
Life if FULL of the unforeseen, the unpredictable, the unexpected, the unplanned.
We get pulled away, wrapped up, preoccupied, sidetracked.

REMEMBER how much God loves you.
REMEMBER that God is always waiting for you.
REMEMBER all of this…

And your life will be FULL indeed!

An Introvert’s Guide to Advent

winter branches

My sister and I have a long-standing joke that she’s my “Wake Wingman.”  I’m an introvert and so immersing myself in large crowds has never been my thing. Small talk can be draining for me. I also internalize emotions and wakes are brimming with feelings.  My sister, on the other hand, is a gregarious, extroverted, social being.  She always knows what to say, and large crowds of overflowing emotion bring out the best in her.  So whenever possible, I tag along behind her at wakes.  I mean I literally stand behind her the whole time, glued to her side.  As we work our way through the line, she says something to the neighbor or co-worker and I nod my head in agreement, offering a sympathetic look or a gentle smile if appropriate.  We’ve been doing this for years and it works for us.

My expression of sorrow is no less sincere; it just has a different delivery method.

It got me thinking about the challenge for introverts to live out the message of Jesus.  Jesus was all about relationships.  Love your neighbor, help the poor, gather in communities to pray.  For some, this comes as naturally as breathing.  Serving a meal to a hundred patrons of a soup kitchen would leave an extrovert feeling energized and ready to take on the world.  For me, I would want to crawl under the covers and turn out the lights.  Not because I don’t love my neighbor.  Or I don’t care about helping those in need.  It’s just harder for me.  Being an introvert means that you’re more energized by time spent alone rather than with people.  Social crowds can quickly sap the introvert of energy.  There’s a tendency to seek out quieter, less publicly stimulating environments.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t put your faith into action, particularly at times of the year when we’re reminded of the importance of doing so.  And so I offer you:

AN INTROVERT’S GUIDE TO ADVENT

WRITE.  Introverts need time to think about what they want to say and how they want to say it.  Writing is an ideal outlet for this kind of communication.  Use correspondence to live out Jesus’ Great Commandment.  For the remainder of Advent, send one email or note each day to someone you care about or admire.  Tell them how you feel.  Plan for bigger goals in the New Year.  Start a blog!  Join an online Bible study.

LISTEN.  Introverts are gifted at listening and their calm, gentle demeanor is the perfect balm for someone in distress.  The holiday season can tap into loneliness and sadness for a lot of people. Look for opportunities to lend a listening ear to someone who needs it.  A meaningful one-on-one connection allows you to be Jesus for that person, and to see Jesus in them.

PRAY.  Quiet prayer comes naturally to introverts and what better time of year to embrace the silence and stillness than Advent.  Seek out a moments of quiet solitude as often as you can. “For God alone, my soul waits in silence.” (Psalm 62:1) Try new forms of silent prayer like meditation or adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.  Use this holy season to deepen your relationship with God.

BE CREATIVE.  Many churches and faith communities offer opportunities for community service at this time of year.  If helping others by being in the thick of the action doesn’t work for you, find ways to help behind the scenes.  Instead of mingling at a fundraiser, volunteer to help design the flyer, or stuff envelopes.  Your contribution is no less important because you weren’t “in the spotlight.”

STRETCH.  Don’t let being an introvert become an excuse. It’s a huge temptation for introverts to hide away rather than engage with the world. Look for ways that God is gently challenging you to stretch out in faith.

Whether you’re an introvert, an extrovert, or somewhere in between—my prayer for you this Advent season is that you will seek ways to grow in your relationship with our loving God, as we await the coming of our Savior.  Come, Lord Jesus, come!

Mary’s Yes

tanner_annunciation-sm

“The Annunciation” H. Tanner 1898

True confession time. For most of my life I did not pray to Mary. I wasn’t in the habit of saying the Rosary. And I did not have any statues of the Blessed Mother in my home or garden. Mary had always seemed a lofty ideal to me.   A heavenly image of perfection that I could not live up to or relate to.  I once heard a priest say that our Church hadn’t done Mary any favors by putting her up on a pedestal. The higher she was raised up, the more remote she became.

Years ago, a friend recommended that I read a book called Two From Galilee by Marjorie Holmes, a dramatic account of Mary’s story—a teenage girl chosen by God to bring Christ into our earthly world. The Mary depicted in this story was one I found infinitely compelling: young, scared, and facing an overwhelming responsibility. Discovering Mary through the prayer of imagination was the moment she became real to me.  And now I pray to her all the time.

Who was Mary? What was her life like? What was the historical context in which she lived? Only by learning Mary’s personal story can we find our own story. And the Advent season is where Mary’s story begins. Continue reading

Taking Jesus to the Mall

christmas mall
It’s that season again. When countless sermons and blog posts deliver the same message: we’re doing Christmas all wrong. We’re focusing on the trappings and the noise instead of the true meaning of Christmas. Through all the gift giving and party planning, we’re forgetting whose birthday it really is. The stress of planning and decorating is distracting us from what’s really important.

My reaction to these statements… THEY ARE NOT HELPFUL AT ALL!

This commentary (for you can’t even really call it advice) is not rooted in a woman’s reality. We can’t abandon these things, because it’s our job. There’s a quote you’ve probably heard by British poet Arthur O’Shaughnessy: “We are the music makers, we are the dreamers of dreams.” (You may remember Willy Wonka saying this line in the movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.) Well, as women, we are the Christmas makers and we are the creators of Christmas dreams. Our job is making memories…and it’s an incredibly valuable one. Continue reading

Making Room for Jesus

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
Luke 2:7

On the night our Savior came into the world, there was no room for him. I can only imagine how Mary and Joseph must have felt. Tired and dusty from the long trip through Galilee and Judea. Mary, heavy with child, uncomfortable, frightened, knowing with a woman’s intuition that her time was near. Joseph, realizing with dread that they would not make it home in time, and their child would have to be born here, in Bethlehem. This brave couple, so very young and alone, desperately searching for a safe place to give birth, only to be told there was no room at the local inn.

John the Baptist says: “The Kingdom of Heaven is near” … “Prepare the way of the Lord!”   Just like that innkeeper in Bethlehem, during this holy season of Advent, we are being asked to make room for Jesus in our lives…in our hearts…and the world.

How will we respond to this request? Continue reading