Advent Candles at Daylesford AbbeyOn Sunday, November 27th, the first Sunday of Advent, we began a new liturgical year. And like all new year celebrations, Advent is a time for new beginnings and new opportunities.  Some differences between Advent and other liturgical seasons were quickly noticeable. The presiders at the Sunday Masses were wearing purple vestments, except on Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent, when they will wear rose colored vestments. The change in vestments for the third Sunday of Advent symbolizes that Gaudete Sunday is a time of joy as we near the great celebration of the Nativity of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

We are also now in liturgical year A, and the Gospel readings are primarily from the Gospel of Mathew. The first reading is from Isaiah. Scripture passages and daily Mass readings come from two different cycles, Cycle 1 and Cycle 2. All odd-numbered years use the selections for “Year 1” and all even-numbered years use the selections for “Year 2, so we will be in Cycle 1. The Catholic daily readings are taken in a semi-continuous manner from various books of the Old and New Testaments.

The weekday cycle comprises the readings in ordinary time. The weeks of Advent remind us to set aside some of the hectic business of the holiday season, and to quietly reflect on the promise of the baby born in Bethlehem 2000 years ago, Jesus of Nazareth. Main Advent themes leading up to Christmas are waiting, preparation, light in the darkness, and the coming of the promised Messiah.

So, what do we wait for: A new job? More free time? Less violence? An end to war? This is a waiting that will continue but we can do more than be passive waiters.

Could we wait to turn on the television news or read the morning paper to make some time for prayer?

Some make time for Lectio Divina, a traditional monastic practice of scriptural reading, meditation, and prayer. Many lay people now practice Lectio Divina too. First a passage of Scripture is read, then its meaning is reflected upon. This is followed by prayer and contemplation on the Word of God.

Lectio Divina is divided into four steps:

  1. Lectio, reading the Word of God,
  2. Meditating, (thinking and pondering on that word,
  3. Pray or oratio, offering a prayer response to the word we have meditated on, and
  4. Contemplation, quietly abiding in the experience, heart and soul, a total “yes” to God.

Could we reflect on the overall theme of the Gospel of Matthew? The gospel of Matthew was written around 60 AD and is set in Palestine. The good news story of Christ’s life and ministry are told.

The reality and promise of the kingdom of God is a major theme that runs through this gospel.  What can we do today to prepare for the coming of the kingdom?

In this day and age, we are far from the kingdom that Matthew preached. Violence, killings, poverty, people sleeping in the cold without food or water. Are we to be passive onlookers or builders of the kingdom Jesus promised?

We read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in chapters 5-7. Jesus gathers His disciples by the Sea of Galilee and lays out for them the ethics of the kingdom of God. He emphasizes the importance of responding with an attitude that goes beyond merely observing a set of rules. Could the Sermon on the Mount be our blueprint, our call to action, helping us to be light in the darkness?

“Blessed are the merciful.” Do we show mercy to those who cut us off on the freeway, or show mercy to the person on the street corner with a sign saying he is hungry and asking for a donation?

“Blessed are the peacemakers.” Peace is so desperately needed in our world today, in our cities and towns, in Ukraine, in other countries.

What can we do to foster a kingdom where peace reigns? A smile to the tired, harried restaurant worker? A thank you to the grocery worker who fills our bags with food?

Lastly, the coming of the Messiah.  Do we make time to sing Christmas carols with our children and friends, to attend a nativity play, or set up a cheche or nativity scene and tell the story of Jesus’ birth?

Do we help in our parishes, volunteering to assist the liturgy director in preparing the Christmas environment or planning ahead for the new year by volunteering to be trained and serve as a lector, Eucharistic minister, usher, or greeter?

The Advent readings start us on our journey, to be the hands and face of love that Jesus is and was, to be kingdom builders, and bearers of the light of peace and joy.