Advent Week 4 Reflection: the Presentation, Magi, New Birth & Resurrection
What is it like to hope when all seems lost? You may have felt that way in the past, or maybe you feel that way today as you read this. Looking at the world and its problems can cause a bleak outlook for anyone, even a Christian who believes that Jesus is the Light of the World who came to save humanity from sin.
“Hope is the thing with feathers,” Emily Dickenson once wrote. G.K. Chesterton wrote of hope that “it is only when everything is hopeless that hope begins to be a strength at all.” What they both mean is that hope carries us above the darkness, but it also carries us through it.
The people of Jesus’ time had been waiting for centuries to witness the fulfillment of the prophecy that they would welcome their Messiah. Consider the hopelessness of a people enslaved, captured, tortured, treated as second class citizens, etc. We know people who are treated like this today. We may be among them.
It’s easy to lose hope when nothing seems to change for the better, when life only gets harder and more complicated. Some Jewish people despaired. They gave up hope. But others persisted that God would save them. They knew God to be a God who keeps His promises. They knew He was faithful and would not leave them.
As we close our Advent walk and transition to the Octave of Christmas, let us remember one thing: that nothing is too far gone when we keep walking toward the Light.
The Presentation of Baby Jesus In the Temple
“Throughout His life He will purposely forget His divinity, from time to time, in order to suffer all things, except sin, in His true humanity.” (The Advent Story, p. 33)
There was a time, not long ago, when I just couldn’t see Jesus with me in my suffering. Every time I thought of His Passion, it all felt like a distant event in history, sterile and far removed from my own experience. I would pray through tears that my heart would soften, because I wanted to regain the hope I had lost.
Over time, I forgot about my prayer, until one morning at Mass during Ordinary Time. Suddenly, God pierced my heart. He came to me, unbidden. He answered my prayer. And I wept – in gratitude, out of love, for contrition and remorse, in relief.
The fact that Jesus may have “purposely forgotten” His divinity at times in His life points to His humility. It makes sense that in order for Him to fully engage in the human experience, He might condescend – as He did by being born a man – from His divinity in order to reach us.
Because that is what His love is – always reaching out, extending from where He is to where we are.
The Magi Visit the Christ Child
“Six kingly priests have met to contemplate. Little do they realize that this conference is the last, to be invested upon the earth in the old law of Melchisedech priests.” (The Advent Story, p. 36)
The journey of the Magi is my journey, too. I have always loved the Feast of the Epiphany for so many reasons: the fact that men from different cultures came together to follow the Star of Bethlehem; that the star itself symbolizes our hope and our compass toward Heaven and eternity; that our destination will not be finalized without the sacrifice and suffering on this earthly pilgrimage; that our devotion to Jesus is never ending, but begins anew each day.
Sometimes we need Jesus to connect our past to where we are headed. Jesus is the Bridge between the Old and New Laws. He also acts as the Bridge between where we have been and where we are, or will be, accompanying us through life. As such, He helps us understand the continuum of what we have done as it relates to His mercy. In memory, we travel to previous times, and we see ourselves as we really are. This is the essence of contemplation – to know who we are, so that we can grow into who we are meant to be.
The New Birth and Resurrection
“The horizon was ablaze with an unearthly light. Such silence, like moss pillowing the sea waves and creeping as breakers fingering the earth. Its height was like spending fountains and its diamond mists crept to the Kings’ carpets.” (The Advent Story, p. 39)
There isn’t much silence or stillness in our modern world. Everything in the spiritual life must be arduously intentional anymore. We do not live in a culture that is conducive to deep thought or personal reflection or examining our consciences.
Celebrating the Octave of Christmas affords us the time to enter into silence. We have moved beyond the bustling flurry of activities centered around baking and gift-giving and decorating and mailing cards and cooking lavish meals. I find December 26th to be opportune for solitude and quiet meditation, because the rest of the world deems Christmas to be “over” when, in fact, it has only just begun.
The words of Cora Evans from her meditation on the Birth and Resurrection of Jesus explain this fortunate mistake thus:
“Unbeliever with believer stood aghast. But this type of sweet perfection does not last for the world does have unbelievers.” (The Advent Story, p. 40)
For a moment, as with the Christmas truce of 1914, we may stand with unbelievers to pause in recollection of what it means to be a people of true peace and unity. December 25th, if nothing else, means that to the unbelieving world. But to us, as Christians, it points to so much more: the fulfillment of God’s plans, the Paschal Mystery, the paradox of redemptive suffering, the glory of rising after death in a both literal and figurative sense.
Maybe the whole point of drawing the high Feast of Christmas out for eight days is so that we can savor it as it was meant to be enjoyed. Maybe it’s so that we can set aside the secular celebrations and family traditions in favor of a simpler expectation – that of the wonder and awe of the Christ-Child who is born anew in us and in the world today.