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The First Week of Advent
Advent offers all of us a chance to be born again. We might well ask with Nicodemus, "How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born?" Jesus tells us that if we want to be part of the people of God we must be born "from above": "No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit" (John 3:4–7). In truth, all of life is an ongoing opportunity for us to find new life and to get in touch with God's ongoing work of co-creating the world with us.
In the beginning God created everything. Created by God, we are called to be stewards of all that we have and receive from God. The mystery of the incarnation, Christmas, and Christ's coming invites us to enter fully into God's ongoing acts of creation and to participate joyfully in the reign of God.
Advent calls us to remember that God is our Creator. Remembering God's acts of creation, as well as God's acts of redemption, liberation, salvation, and grace, we grow in anticipation of the Child's coming at Christmas and on the last day. The first step in Advent is to remember that we are created by God and loved by God. The psalmist said it best:
Know that the Lord is God.
It is the Lord who made us,
and we belong to God.
We are the people of God,
sheep in God's pasture. (Psalm 100:3)
In this first week of Advent, we will pay attention to the creation story found in Genesis. We might just discover a new sense of hope for the world in these times, as we anticipate and participate in God's ongoing act of creation.
THIS WEEK IN THE WOMB
Thanks to all the maternal calcium, the Child has strong bones and a tough skull. His skull is firm but not and the plates are ready to give enough for the head to adjust in the birth process, when the time comes for the Child to work his way through the birth canal. This week, the fat is dimpling on his elbows, knees, wrists, and around his neck. The Child has a full face—baby cheeks that are guaranteed to catch the attention of children and adults alike. The cheeks are more noticeable because they have been filling out as he sucks his thumb in preparation for breastfeeding. His gums are very rigid and he has been practicing opening and closing his mouth and various sucking motions. He is ready to nurse.
It is a month before Mary is due. She is quite likely exhausted, worried, and more than a little curious. Joseph is probably experiencing a similar mixture of feelings. He is probably trying to grapple with his role in the whole series of events. On good days, he thanks God; on bad days, he wonders how he ever got into this. When they talk about all that has happened to them, they discover that they have many of the same joys, doubts, fears, and questions. When they pray, the awe-inspiring creation story in Genesis looms larger than ever before.
Advent 1: Sunday
O come, O come Emmanuel, and give us your light today.
Advent is a time of remembering, appreciating, and anticipating the coming of the true Light into the world.
IN THE SCRIPTURES Genesis 1:1–5
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. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
God calls light into being and brings order out of chaos. We see the power of the word of God, later manifested in the Word. The creation story in Genesis offers powerful insights about God. God does not fear the formless void, the darkness, and the chaos. We meet God as one who embraces and enters into the chaos, bringing forth light. Our mothers can tell us that pregnancy, though joyful at times, has many moments of chaos, uncertainty, worry, emptiness, and a feeling of darkness.
When Advent is viewed alongside God's acts of creation, we are reminded of the grounding of all human hope in God. In the same way that life and light came out of the chaos and the dark, wherever human hearts prepare for the birth of Christ, faith assures all people of goodwill that light will come from darkness, life will be born and possibilities will exist for a better life. Advent reminds us that God looks at the world and sees its goodness still. Wherever there is darkness and pain it is the will of God that humanity acts on the side of goodness and truth. God's act of creation continues to this day and Advent is a reminder that human beings are called into living deliberately to make the world a better place.
How do we remember, appreciate, and anticipate God's coming? The season invites the Christian community to remember that God created us and we belong to God. It is easy to forget that God the Creator is ultimately in charge of all things. In the bleak midwinter of the Advent season or as the ending of the year draws near with all its darkness and shadows, the reality of the God who enlightens our darkness by bringing light out of darkness is worth remembering.
IN THE WOMB
The Child is surrounded by the darkness of the womb. Yet even in the darkness he is very sensitive to any light outside the womb.
As a child growing up in Jamaica, I was always afraid of the dark. There is something about the darkness that naturally frightens children, and even many adults. Back then in Jamaica, street lights were few and far between, so going outside at night or walking home late in the evening was not something I ever thought of doing.
My fear of the dark started to change around age four. I remember my father telling me, "Son, the darkness always gives way to the light." Although I was still afraid, I began to realize he was right: darkness always gives way to light. Only in my late teens did I lose my fear of the darkness. It took me many years to internalize the reality that the darkness in and of itself was not dangerous and could not hurt me.
I also remember my father telling me, "The darkest night is no match for a speck of light. Even inside of your mother's womb, where there is supposedly no light, there is light." I still do not know why father told me that. What was he thinking? I certainly did not know what to think at the time, and I was too scared to ask my father what he meant. When I next saw a pregnant woman, I told myself there is light in there—all is never dark.
In Brazil, they actually describe the birth of a child as the giving of light: dar luz, people say. It is their way of saying—and I delight in this—that a woman has brought a light into the world. When Advent comes, I always remember the creation story, and I especially think of the first day of creation when God dispels the darkness with light. I also think of the Child's birth as an act that also dispels the light. When we find ourselves in the dark or overwhelmed, what is our posture? Do we panic in the dark, or do we take measures to prepare ourselves for the light that must come? Let us turn toward the light with the Child.
Reread the passage from Genesis. Close your eyes and imagine the darkness of the womb. Try to imagine how the Child must look and feel at this stage of his development.
Think about the things that distract you and lead you away from the light. Slowly place your right hand over your heart and pray, "Lord, send your light into my life."
Now think of a person or a situation in need of light. Slowly extend your right hand, palm upward in blessing, and pray, "God, send your light wherever there is darkness."
* How might God be calling you to celebrate an Advent that is filled with light?
* Ask God to bring light to all of the dark places in your life today.
* Remember that Advent is about God bringing the light of Life into the darkness of the world.
Advent 1: Monday
O come, O come Emmanuel, and let us think of heavenly things today.
Advent is a time to be attentive, careful, and deliberate.
IN THE SCRIPTURES Genesis 1:6–8
And God said, "Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters." So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
On the second day of creation God sets the boundaries for further work. The sky and heavens are created as a buffer zone limiting the role of chaos on the waters. Advent gives Christians an opportunity to remember that creation takes time: God is not finished with us or the world yet. The Genesis story shows that the world was not built in a day. In addition, the writer of Genesis shows an orderly series of creative acts that build on each other. God is presented as attentive, deliberate, and careful. Working for life and love takes time.
Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, after many attempts at prayer realized that spiritual growth depended on God's grace and the attentiveness of human beings to God's presence, in and out of prayer. So Ignatius encouraged his early companions to learn the art of attentiveness by paying attention to all of life. Using the senses in and out of prayer could bring a deeper awareness of God's activity in one's heart and the world. By using awareness Jesuits deepened their relationship with God, whom they believed could be found and experienced in and through all things.
When we are aware, we are more creative. And when we are more aware of the things of God, God is more creative within us. It is not that our awareness causes God to be more active, but we become more conscious of the power of God in our lives.
Advent invites the Christian into a more careful and deliberate approach to God as a way of God-discovery and self-discovery. Careful attention in the spiritual life guarantees avoidance of certain common religious pitfalls. The Christian who pays attention stands in stark contrast to a present-day culture that emphasizes so much carelessness. Freedom and power frequently seduce the believer into accepting a lifestyle that is careless, irresponsible, and unrighteous. A mother handing a newborn to a family member captures the carefulness and attention required in the spiritual life. A father teaching a son to drive also illustrates the carefulness that forms part of the spiritual life. To be full of care takes us to a place where we notice how our thoughts, words, and actions have an impact on ourselves, those around us, and the world. All we have to do is look around and see: when we refuse to be careful or take care of ourselves, we end up ultimately doing serious damage.
Advent requires that we act deliberately and carefully; and with each passing day to recognize that there is an urgent need for Christians to love deliberately, forgive decidedly, and witness consciously to God's ongoing act of creation. The creation story and the Christmas story help us to see God as continuing the creative giving that beats at the heart of who God is and wants us to be.
IN THE WOMB
By now, many of the Child's systems are mature. Blood circulation happens as it should and the senses are developing well. The Child has been opening and closing his mouth, probably already sucking his thumb. All this movement of the mouth is to prepare him for nursing; new forms of nourishment await the Child after his birth, forms that will provide nutrition and will further develop the facial muscles that will aid in his speech. Fed on the inside by his mother, the tricks of nursing and digestion will come later. Clearly, the womb is a temporary home. It will take almost two years for the digestive system to develop well.
I remember waiting for the birth of my son. Who knew that the whole pregnancy event could be so exciting, complicated, and fraught with so many emotions? Twenty weeks into the pregnancy, Kathy was told she needed a cervical cerclage (a simple operation to ensure that the baby didn't deliver early). Our son was in danger of being born before his time. After the operation, Kathy had to be on bedrest for the remaining months of the pregnancy. The only time she was allowed to leave the house was to see the doctors, which we did twice a month.
Waiting for a birth in situations like these is quite frightening. You never know what to expect. You hope for the best, but there is always a part of you that feels that disaster is just waiting to happen. Frightened as we were, we decided to love each other unconditionally, and grew very fond of our little child who was living on the edge.
So we prayed, supported each other, and waited. Every visit to the doctor was a new experience of the awesomeness of life. To see our son's heart beating and to hear the doctor looking at what was to us an indistinguishable mass and say, "He is perfect"—well, that felt like a creation experience. We could not help but enjoy the echo of God's own satisfied exclamation, "It is good."
Reread the passage from Genesis. Close your eyes and imagine the darkness of the womb. Try to imagine how the Child must look and feel at this stage of his development.
Remember a time when you felt separated from God. What kept you separated and what brought you back to God? Make a note of the things that separate you from God. Then think about the things that make you feel close to God. Spend some time reflecting on the moments when you felt fearful and worried, and the times you knew God's love supporting you and giving you courage.
* How might God be calling you to celebrate Advent more boldly and deliberately?
* Ask God for the grace to love unconditionally despite your fears.
* Remember that Advent is about God's ongoing work of making all of creation whole again.
Advent 1: Tuesday
O come, O come Emmanuel and let us bear fruits that witness to your love today.
Advent is a time to gather our spiritual resources and to bear fruits that witness to God's love.
IN THE SCRIPTURES Genesis 1:9–13
And God said, "Let the waters under the sky be gathered together in one place, and let the dry land appear." And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, "Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it." And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.
On the third day, God gathers the water of chaos and contains them so that the earth can be fruitful. Mother Earth is born on this day and she immediately bursts into a life-giving ministry. The call goes out to us: let human beings bring forth fruit that will last. God continues creating without haste and without waste, reminding us that love and creation take time.
The journey toward Christmas is a journey toward the light, which demands a commitment to bear fruits worthy of the followers of Christ. To be Christians, to be people of God, requires a commitment to walk in the light: bearing fruits of justice, love and compassion in deliberate ways. "You will know them by their fruits," Jesus says (Matthew 7:16). His words offer the Christian an invitation to understand that part of the journey with Christ involves bearing fruit. The Christian community, therefore, continues the work of creation by being fruitful and bringing forth into the world all the love, humility, patience, and faith that come from an experience of Love, an experience of Christ.
According to recent reports, millionaires will soon outnumber unemployed people in America. Many people are bearing financial fruits and are doing quite well, while the saying "the rich get richer and the poor poorer" is certainly as true today as ever before. What is the Christian response in light of the growing wealth and poverty? The challenge of bringing good news still stands. And Christians who do well financially face the extraordinary challenge of trying to figure out how to share the fruits of their labor. The issue of wealth stands at the center of Christian witness today.
Fruit trees in tropical countries show evidence of their identity in their blossoming and bearing fruit. For example, long before the blossoms come, there is a certain glow on the leaves of the mango tree. Then the blossoms burst out in one glorious day. On that day all doubts are removed: this is a mango tree. From start to finish and in all stages of its life, a mango tree is a mango tree, but it arrives at its strongest identity at the point of bearing fruit. Fruit-bearing trees are never just celebrated for their fruit. At the moment of ripening, these trees have to endure a glorious assault: they must give up their fruit. And there is nothing more delightful than seeing young children climb up the branches of these fruit-laden trees to devour their gifts.
Excerpted from The WOMB of ADVENT by MARK BOZZUTI-JONES. Copyright © 2007 by Mark Bozzuti-Jones. Excerpted by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated.
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Preface: In the Beginning.................... xi
The First Week of Advent God's Creation.................... 1
The Second Week of Advent God Announces Life and Birth.................... 27
The Third Week of Advent Our Call from God.................... 52
The Fourth Week of Advent Good News and Light.................... 83
Christmas Day The Feast of the Incarnation.................... 112