Walk in the Light of the Lord This Advent
As another liturgical year begins, a few words come to mind: waiting, anticipation, joy, expectancy, wonder, humility. We are a people of praise, and this season is one in which we are called to enter into the sanctuary of our souls and pause to give glory and honor to the One Who was born as the God-Man, our only hope for redemption.
This week is sacred. Let us ponder the words of Scripture, holy theologians, and beloved saints as we begin our journey inward to the place where we pray Jesus will be born in our hearts on Christmas Day.
Wait with Hope
“No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you doing such deeds for those who wait for him.” (Isaiah 64:3)
Why does God ask us to wait? Certainly Advent is a time of sacrosanct preparation, a time of intense waiting. The people who followed the God of Israel long before Jesus was born waited a lifetime. Generations waited for centuries for their Messiah. Yet hope never expired in their hearts. Theirs was an exuberant and steadfast faith. Can you imagine what it must have been like, then, to be alive when Jesus was born – to be present and awake when the people heard the news of their long-awaited Messiah’s birth?
God always rewards our faithful waiting with something greater than we can possibly imagine – what no eye has ever seen or ear has heard. What does God have ready for those who wait? Only He knows. But Advent calls to mind the fruits of our journey over the course of four weeks that, like a mystical pregnancy, germinate the goodness of the Lord within us so that we, too, can be people of vigilance and renewed joy.
“May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’” (Mark 13: 37)
One of my favorite parables is of the foolish and wise virgins; the wise kept the oil in their lamps while the foolish ones fell asleep. And once the Bridegroom (e.g., Jesus) arrived at long last, the wise virgins were ready to meet Him while the foolish ones scurried about trying to compensate for their procrastination and laziness.
We must be like the wise virgins who waited indefinitely for their Beloved. We must be at the ready, vigilant, expectant, for we truly don’t know the hour or moment when God will move – to answer a prayer, to release us from a financial burden, to provide a new job, to cure our ills, and yes, to come again in His eternal glory!
So often we neglect our souls, because we don’t truly believe He is coming any moment. It’s easy to be like the slothful virgins who thought they had time to take a nap. We take spiritual naps, too. We don’t read Scripture. We might miss daily prayers or a Holy Day of Obligation. But we are called to be people who wait for the Lord, no matter how long it takes, because we know He is coming to bless us for our patience. “Patience, people, till the Lord is come.”
“He calls me just as I am? I can go to him with all my miseries, all my weaknesses? He will repair what I have done badly? He will supply for all my indigence? Yes, provided that you go to him, that you count on him, that you expect everything of him…” - Fr. Jean C. D’Elbee
Perhaps we avoid working on personal repentance because we assume our sinfulness and struggles are beyond repair. Perhaps we falsely believe that God won’t forgive us, so we simply go on with life as if in a state of spiritual catatonia. The apathy, however, gives way to a hardened heart, and our consciences are dulled.
Advent calls us out of that catatonic state and into the light of God’s mercy. Just as He asks us to wait for Him, so, too, does He wait for us! All we have to do is approach the throne of mercy, to beseech forgiveness and sincerely repent of our sins. That’s the hidden treasure of Advent: that our stony hearts may be warmed by the Son’s healing rays and become hearts of flesh once again.
Walk in the Light of the Lord
“Let us walk in the light of the Lord!” (Isaiah 2:5)
If there’s one sign that defines Advent, it is that of the contrast of light appearing in the darkest of months. For those of us who live in the northern hemisphere, December is the coldest, bleakest month of the year, enshrouded in few hours of daylight and blanketed mostly by night. It is no coincidence that Advent draws us away from our dark stupor and into what breathes hope into our hearts.
Most of us want to hibernate these long winter months, but God says, “Come! Be with me. My Light will kindle the fire of zeal in your souls and illuminate you to walk in truth.” Let us be people of Advent, people of light.
“O God, may you be praised forever by your works. It is not enough to have illuminated me once; without your help I would fall again into my initial darkness. The air needs the sun to illuminate it; how much more do I need you ceaselessly to illuminate me. Ever my prayer should be: ‘Let there be light!’” - Jacques-Benigne Bossuet
Jesus is the Light of the World who ignites every good virtue in us. Though we seldom thank Him and mostly complain and ruminate over what we don’t have or things that have gone awry in life, we must remember that it is He – and only He – Who can save us from eternal damnation. The next time we have the urge to gripe to the Lord about what we lack, perhaps instead we should ask Him to once again bear light to our souls so that our prayer may indeed be, “Let there be light!”
Have a Childlike Faith
“Although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.” (Luke 10: 21)
Advent reminds us to start small. God came to earth as an infant, not a grown and powerful monarch. There is infinite wisdom in the miracle of the Incarnation! I never fully understood the power of approaching Jesus as a tiny baby until I became a mother and comforted my seven-pound daughter when she was teething, cold, or hungry. During Advent, there were moments I’d look in her eyes and imagine that I was comforting the Christ Child, that it was He who was nestled in my arms.
I’ve come to believe that the virtue of childlike faith is an Advent virtue. It can be honed and perfected every year as we ponder the mystery of the Word-made-flesh. Whether or not you are a parent, imagine that you are holding Jesus in your arms – you are carrying God! And if that does not convince you to shed your jaded cynicism, remember that He grants wisdom to those who have retained – or regained – purity of heart rather than the ones who are intellectually complex.
“Trust in the Lord forever! For the Lord is an eternal Rock.” (Isaiah 26: 4)
This time of year is a mad dash to the end – another calendar year is nearly complete, and we are spending money on feasting and festive gifts for our loved ones, then scrambling to reconfigure our finances, and finally collapsing into a heap of exhaustion. This isn’t what God intends for us. He wants us to be steady in our faith, for our trust in Him to be constant, unwavering, solid. Like that metaphor of the eternal Rock, we can turn to Him this Advent and rest upon Him. We know He will not change, despite the fact that we should. Instead of worrying how you will “do it all” this Christmas, appreciate the quiet moments that Advent affords you – and sit on the shoulders of your eternal Rock.
Be Not Afraid
“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” (Luke 1: 30)
It’s common knowledge that the words “fear not” or “do not be afraid” (and some variation therein) are written over two hundred times in the Bible. If God isn’t trying to send us a clear message through this means, I can’t imagine how else He will. I’d also be willing to wager that most of us struggle, at least at times, with fear and anxiety. We fret over minutiae and mountains; both are millstones when we carry the weight of fear.
The season of Advent beckons us to befriend our Blessed Mother when we are afraid. At the Annunciation, St. Gabriel told her not to fear, because she was favorable in God’s eyes. We are not immaculately conceived as she was, but we are still God’s beloved sons and daughters. This Advent, ask Our Lady to walk with you through the specific fears that paralyze you, and then you will come to know the peace of Christmas Day.
“As those who are devoted to Mary, then, let’s rouse ourselves to greater and greater confidence each time we turn to her for graces. So that we may do just that, let’s always remember two great powers of this good mother: her great desire to do us good, and the power she has with her Son to obtain what she asks.” - St. Alphonsus Liguori
What greater antidote to our fear than turning to our dear heavenly Mother? I consider my own motherhood for a moment. My three daughters, born from my womb and cradled in my arms hour after sleepless hour for their every need, instinctively know that mom loves them. I am a constant source of safety, security, to them, despite my shortcomings. What more do we have, then, with our heavenly Mother? She cares more deeply for every detail of our lives than our earthly mothers do, so we can be confident that she, above all, will be a beacon of hope in our most uncertain and unnerving periods of life.
Rest in God
“No longer will your Teacher hide himself, but with your own eyes you shall see your Teacher, while from behind, a voice shall sound in your ears: ‘This is the way; walk in it,’ when you would turn to the right or to the left.” (Isaiah 30: 20b-21)
Part of the light of Advent is the journey itself. I’ve always been one who wants the certainty of knowing where I’m headed. I want to see clearly the landmarks and potential impediments beforehand. But God doesn’t operate that way. He usually illuminates one step at a time, because He’s asking us to trust Him and walk beside Him. The Advent revelation here is that we must live in the present moment, appreciate the here-and-now, rather than search for what’s ahead or lament at what has been lost in the past.
“Let nothing deter the soul, then, from inviting the divine Spouse to rest within her. Let the Beloved come to his chosen one…Let the Beloved come to the manger, converted by love into a throne.” - Luis M. Martinez
Another Advent invitation is that of resting in God. This seems to contrast with the image of vigilance and staying awake. But it is possible for our souls to rest in God and simultaneously be ready to receive Him. Here, we can liken resting to finding solitude in our day; even more, resting can be akin to a state of interior peace. The tranquility for which we all long is only possible when we approach the manger with humility and gratitude. Stay awake, yes, but be at peace, dear soul. Your hope will soon come to life again within you.
“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” (Matthew 9: 37)
God summons us to active waiting during Advent. The seeds have been planted and watered over time. The harvest is at hand now, and He needs us to be willing to gather the abundance of the fields for Him. We are God’s farmhands, really. We work for Him in the fields of His earthly kingdom in order that souls might live with Him in the eternal kingdom. Jesus said, “The kingdom of Heaven is at hand,” so our work has only begun. If we are to bring about His kingdom on earth, we must be ready to go now – bringing our deficiencies, deformities, denial, depression, whatever holds us back. Go without delay. Let us begin as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.