Christmas Day Ellen Cronin, Oblate, St. Benedict Monastery, Bristow, VA
Sandy Spring Meeting House, MD
Christ is born to all of us today (1) Growing up in a Quaker Meeting community, with our expectant, waiting worship, with no ritual and relatively few words, I learned to enter a silence of God and to listen and look. Over years I became aware of the light, light from outside the large windows of the Quaker Meeting House, a light sometimes covering all of us in worship and sometimes radiating from one person, and the light within, light everywhere! Later when I read his Journal, George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, provided words to affirm my experience: “Christ it was who had enlightened me, that gave me his light to believe in, and gave me hope, which is himself, revealed himself in me, and gave me his spirit and gave me his grace, which I found sufficient in the deeps and in weakness.” (2) And the words of the Prologue of the Book of John especially have resonated for me: “He was with God in the beginning…. What has come into being in him was life, life that was the light of men, and light shines in darkness and darkness could not overpower it…. The Word was the real light that gives light to everyone…. To those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God” (New Jerusalem Bible, John 1: 2, 4-5, 9, 12)
Light shining through everything
I have loved reading the poems of Ann Weems at Christmas. One is “Christmas Comes”: ‘Christmas comes every time we see God in other persons. The human and the holy meet in Bethlehem or in Times Square, for Christmas comes like a golden storm on its way to Jerusalem-determinedly, inevitably…. Even now it comes in the face of hatred and warring- no atrocity too terrible to stop it, no Herod strong enough, no hurt deep enough, no curse shocking enough, no disaster shattering enough. For someone on earth will see the star, someone will hear the angel voices, someone will run to Bethlehem, someone will know peace and goodwill: The Christ will be born!’ (3)
George Fox also wrote, “I … saw there was an ocean of darkness and death, but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness. In that also I saw the infinite love of God.” (4)
For reflection: How will my priorities change as I receive the babe Christ this year?
1. “The Nativity Kerygma” in Seasons of Celebration by Thomas Merton, pp.101-112. 2,4. The Journal of George Fox, ed. John L. Nickalls, p.12 (2), p.19 (4). 3. Kneeling in Bethlehem by Ann Weems, 1980.
Fourth Sunday of Advent Luke 1: 26-38 Beth Taneyhill, Oblate at Emmanuel Monastery, Baltimore, Maryland
Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Wayne, NJ
We have only a few hours before we celebrate Him in whom all we have longed for is fulfilled. Now is the time to rehearse our own ‘Yes’ to God being born in us; now is the time to say ‘Yes’ to our light-bearer identity. In our last minute Christmas preparations, let us try to live this brief, short day of Advent with Mary, who longed for the Promised One, with love beyond all telling. The Life stirring in her is the Author of Life – announcing that a new in-breaking of God is happening. How do we relate to this marvelous news? For what do we listen and how are we to listen? So many different voices clamor for our attention. Benedict wisely tells us to listen “with the ear of our heart”.
Like Mary we can say ‘Yes’ in our lives to our God who chooses to be known by us, who calls us holy, and who passionately longs that we be filled with the Beloved’s Indwelling-Presence. We can “enflesh” our Blessed One’s Light, Life and Love to the broken, dispirited war-torn world through the goodness of our own lives by the “overshadowing” of the radiant One’s Spirit and our ‘Yes’.
Consider this poem by Hafiz:
We have not come into this exquisite world to hold ourselves hostage from love, or to confine our wondrous spirits.
But to surrender ever more deeply to freedom and joy, To experience ever more deeply, Our divine courage, freedom and Light!
Thoughts to Ponder: What is it like to know that God is where God chose to be - in you? Gabriel announced divine Presence in Mary. I experience God’s Presence in my life when…… through……. by…….. I announce the Word made flesh within me for others when……
Sister Mary Lou Robino, OSB St. Gertrude Monastery, Ridgely, MD
Luke 1:46-50, 53-54 Advent elicits in me memories of my childhood. At age 10, I joined the girls’ choir and sang at the Sunday Masses. When Advent arrived, I remember feeling a bit sad because the church was draped in purple. However when the third Sunday arrived (Gaudete Sunday) and the priest donned pink vestments, a spirit of joy encompassed me because I knew Christmas would soon arrive. I so looked forward with child-like anticipation to the beautiful flowers, the manger scene, the uplifting music, the gifts, but especially my first solo on Christmas eve—the beginning of many. Now however that I am old, my reflections are certainly much different. Gaudete Sunday still fills me with rejoicing, as I reflect on the scriptures. Joy and rejoicing continue to be the theme of the third Sunday of Advent to this very day. In the Old Testament, Isaiah rejoices greatly in the Lord for God is the joy of his soul. He feels like a bride and bridegroom “dressed to the nines” filled with anticipation, expectation and excitement. Isaiah’s heart is filled with great joy because the Lord has blessed him abundantly. We also have Mary as an example of someone who rejoices always. Her visit to Elizabeth causes her to break forth in a song of praise (the Magnificat) because of her delight in being the bearer of God’s son. Her joy is all encompassing as she waits in joyful hope for the expected one, the prince of peace, and the savior of the world.
In the New Testament reading to the Thessalonians, Paul calls us to rejoice always, to pray constantly, and to offer thanks to God for all of our gifts. Peace must be a goal in life and our nearness to God and our awareness of God’s presence throughout the day will bring about that peace and joy.
John the Baptist, in the Gospel reading shouts out his joy because he has been sent by God to give testimony to the coming of the Messiah—the light of the world. John, whose mission will soon come to an end, is the voice calling all of us to rejoice and be glad for Emmanuel (God with us) will be among us. As I reflect on these readings I am still beamed back to my childhood and the many graces I received then. I am so grateful for God’s goodness to me throughout my many years and I am thankful for the joy that still remains in my heart.
1. What thoughts does Advent elicit in you? 2. Think of the many ways in your life that you have experienced joy. 3. Find time in the course of the day to reflect on God’s goodness to you and thank God for your many blessings
Sister Julia Abdala, OSB St. Benedict Monastery, Bristow, VA
Mark 1:1-8 “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”
This sentence, in this week’s Gospel Mark took from the Old Testament Book of Malachi. The words were included in the Gospel to describe John the Baptist’s ministry. He was to make the Jews aware of their need for repentance and the need to serve and prepare for God. He was trying to get the Jews to accept whatever God brings forth. So how do we prepare the way of the Lord and make straight his paths? We prepare much the same ways the Jews were asked to prepare, repentance for past actions and recognition of our desire for and need for God. Our crooked paths are filled with what occupies our time, electronics, entertainment, socializing, shopping. Each of these activities can cause us to swerve from our most sacred and straight path toward the Lord. We are to put Christ before all else. This very instruction was also given by St. Benedict in his Rule in Chapter 72. Making straight the Lord’s path would put him above all else.
Most of us have taken pretty circuitous routes in our lives. We have veered down one winding path after another always searching for what satisfies, but sooner or later we realize that these things just do not provide fulfillment. So make straight the way of the Lord, make Christ the main focus and you will find the divine energy that satisfies. If we are able to put other items and interests on the back burner and always remember where we are heading, advent will blossom in its meaning of preparing and waiting for God. Then maybe we will be more what we are supposed to be, alive, life-giving and life-sharing, nourishing and heartfelt in both gratitude and compassion.
Questions to ponder.
Why was it important for Mark to refer back to an Old Testament reading? How does this connect the past to the present and look toward the future?
What steps might you take this Advent to make straight the Lord’s path?
Is repentance sorrow for our misdeeds or a recognition of a desire for closeness to the divine?
The season of Advent means there is something on the horizon the likes of which we have never seen before. It is not possible to keep it from coming, because it will. That’s just how Advent works. What is possible is to not see it, to miss it, to turn just as it brushes past you... …So, Stay. Sit. Linger. Tarry. Ponder. Wait. Behold. Wonder. There will be time enough for running. For rushing. For worrying. For pushing. For now, stay. Wait. Something is on the horizon. Jan Richardson
It always seems strange to me as we begin the Church year, that we begin with endings and darkness, rather than beginnings and the light of a new day. But then, the rhythm of life is just like that: endings are beginnings, darkness moves to dawn and new light! Today we begin again to enter that sacred rhythm more intentionally: to remember, celebrate and strive to enter the dance of life’s journey that always brings us home to the God who desires so deeply to be with us. Advent’s gift is to teach us once again the movements of this sacred dance, the mystery of Incarnation.
Advent is a time to keep vigil: to watch and wait for all the little pieces of light that creep into the dark places of our days and nights amazing us with the nearness of God for “no ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen any God but you, doing such deeds for those who wait for you.” (Isaiah 64:4) Advent is a time to open our whole selves to the touch of God: to allow the potter to mold and shape us into something beautiful for “we are the clay and you are the potter. We are all the work of your hands.”(Isaiah 64:8) Advent is a time to learn how to dream as God dreams: for peace, for freedom, for love and respect for all in the human family; “O that you would rend the heavens and come down.” (Isaiah 63:19) Advent prods us to imagine big and impossible things and then challenges us to work with all we have to make them real in our time in history. In the coming weeks we will hear the question posed to us, as it once was to John the Baptist: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we wait for another?” (Matt. 11:3). The Hopi Elders reminded their people that “WE are the ones we have been waiting for.!”
So, what is the invitation of Advent to you this year? How will you keep vigil? How will you join in the sacred dance of the incarnation mystery? How will you allow the touch of God to shape you? How will you learn to dream impossible dreams with God? How will you wait and watch and behold and wonder? If “we are the ones we have been waiting for,” the way we answer these questions is critical!
A Prayer for the Advent Journey byJan Richardson
Guardian of the seasons, keeper of every time, Tune us so to your rhythms that we may know the occasion for stillness and the moment for action. May we be so prepared, so aware, so awakened in our waiting that when you prompt us into motion, our hands may be your hands, And our purposes your own.