In the Christian life, especially in the Catholic Church, we have two great feasts during the year: Easter and Christmas. Because of their relevance to faith, each of these feasts has a time of preparation. Lent prepares for Easter and Advent prepares for Christmas. During Advent, we are invited to contemplate four biblical characters who mark the meaning of active waiting for the Lord. These characters are Isaiah, John the Baptist, St. Joseph, and the Virgin Mary.
We want to approach these figures by making a reading of faith from the reality that we live as a community of Bethlehem University in a context particularly complex and difficult. May these snippets of reflection help us to prepare for the coming of Jesus in our hearts, our families and, in particular, in the Holy Land, where today more than ever it is necessary to establish a time of lasting peace based on equal rights for all.
The last week of Advent invites us to contemplate the figure of Mary. To this end, I would like to refer to an expression of St. Paul in which he affirms that “God chose the foolishness of the world to shame the wise, and he chose the weak things of the world to shame the mighty” (1 Cor 1:27). This key by which God makes present his saving action in humanity through the fragile is also present in many parts of the Bible, such as the election of an oppressed people, their prophets, their kings, etc. In all of them, the small and the fragile stand out as a constant on which God’s plan is sustained.
When we gaze at the figure of Mary, this dynamism of God’s action also stands out, choosing the human frailty of a humble girl from Nazareth, who must take a leap of faith by accepting to be the mother of the Son of God. The possibility of death permanently surrounded Mary’s YES to God’s plan. She could have been stoned to death if the accusation of infidelity had taken place. Having to give birth to a child in very precarious conditions could also have been fatal. And finally Jesus escaping the “Slaughter of the Innocents” (King Herod’s decree to kill firstborn male infants) is a reflection of God’s desire to keep the embers of hope alive.
In the figure of Mary, we can see TODAY many women threatened by violence in the Holy Land and other countries; women who fight with all their might to protect and care for their children amid the destruction they see around them, such as in refugee camps. Mary gave birth to Jesus in a cave where the shepherds took shelter during the night, surrounded by animals and irrelevant people to the religious or political world. God chose Mary, a vulnerable woman without means, and a man, Joseph, to bring the Prince of Peace, Jesus, into our world under oppressive and violent circumstances, not unlike what we are seeing in the Holy Land today.
This Christmas season, may we look at the world with the eyes of our Heavenly Father, who has embraced the fragility of our humanity to show that another horizon is possible. The language is love, and the way, today more than ever, is in solidarity with the most vulnerable.
Master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas.
We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day,
We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us.
We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom.
We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence.
We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light.
To you we say, “Come Lord Jesus!’
– Henri J.M. Nouwen
The third week of Advent invites us to contemplate the figure of St. Joseph. I invite you to read the Gospel of Matthew 1:18-25. The text has several contextual connotations worth mentioning. The first one that stands out is that Joseph was a righteous man, that is, someone who lived according to God’s Law. Within this context, the debate of his life takes place as he faces a difficult situation. The woman engaged to him was pregnant in unclear circumstances. Infidelity? A blind obedience to the Law, pointed to a public condemnation of Mary with consequences such as public disgrace or even death by stoning. Joseph had to make a leap of faith to go from “being righteous” to assuming the logic of love. That is to continue loving and caring for the safety and well-being of a young woman and her future child, who depended in large part on a relationship with a man, such as her father or husband. Joseph could have ended the engagement, but he decided to believe amid the confusion.
The figure of St. Joseph challenges us today to believe amid uncertainty and confusion. In Joseph we can see reflected those who, even at the cost of their own lives, take risks to care for:
Like the figure St. Joseph, who cared for Mary and baby Jesus under a similar occupation, today’s doctors, nurses, teachers, volunteers, and compassionate guardians take care of women and children who are subjected to the horrors of war.
Advent reminds us of the figure of Joseph as a courageous young man, capable of reading the signs of God; capable of overcoming his own cultural and religious practices.
May this time encourage us to continue to seek concrete strategies to protect the most fragile, especially those who are suffering the consequences of unjust violence.
In the second week of Advent, we are invited to contemplate the figure of John the Baptist, hand in hand with the Gospel of Matthew. Who is this prophet who announces the arrival of “the one who is to come”? We have some references to John the Baptist in chapter 3, where the evangelist gives some references to him. He leads an ascetic life and announces the coming of the Lord. In this way, John is a witness to the coming of the Kingdom of God, it was he who baptized Jesus in the Jordan, when the heavens opened and the Spirit of God descended on Jesus in the form of a dove and a voice was heard from heaven saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him, I am well pleased.” (Mt 3:17).
Later, in chapter 11:3, however, the Baptist sends his disciples to ask Jesus a troubling question: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” Faced with this question, we would expect the answer to be yes or no. However, Jesus replies: “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” (Mt 11:4-5) Undoubtedly, all these actions are signs of the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven.
But what does it mean that the Kingdom of God comes with Jesus? What is that Reign that we are waiting for like? How should we prepare? I believe that as disciples of St. John Baptist de La Salle, we are invited to train our gaze to learn to see things from the perspective of faith. That one goes a little beyond literalness and opens itself to the contemplation of God’s action in the depths of the human heart and of daily life.
Learning to look with the eyes of faith can lead us to prepare our hearts to contemplate the Kingdom of God:
We are invited to prepare, like John the Baptist, the way of the Lord, with our actions and our prayers. May this time find us with the eyes of faith open and our hearts committed to the coming of the Kingdom.
Isaiah is one of the most important prophets in Israel’s history. His prophetic community spans several generations, and his writings testify to the journey of faith that the people of Israel had to make in times of uncertainty. The voice of the prophet announcing the coming of the Messiah resonates particularly during Advent. In one of the most beautiful texts of Isaiah, in the so-called Book of Immanuel, the descendant of David is spoken of, in which the hope of a people and the reestablishment of a new order for all creation are concentrated.
Today as in the past, in these times of uncertainty and sorrow caused by many lives lost during the war in the Holy Land, Isaiah invites us to focus our faith on the fragile sprout of hope. Let us ask the God of Life, that we may be protagonists of a culture of peace, based on our shared humanity. The “God with us” (Immanuel), promised by Isaiah, will be a righteous person who will not build his judgments based on appearances and will be a hope for those who hope for a better time.
Today as in the past, the voice of the prophet and the promise of a total restoration of creation continue resounding in which no creature will hurt another, no person will harm another. The cessation of hostilities and fire is, certainly, within the horizon of our faith. Re-establishing dialogue based on brotherhood is needed today, more than ever. Isaiah’s prophecy continues to challenge us to be a voice of hope amid uncertainty.