Fourth Sunday of Advent
December 18, 2011
“Living into the Reality of Advent Today: A Call to Christian Maturity"
Maryanne Confoy RSC
How quickly for most of us have these weeks flown! As Christmas comes closer we hear people talking about what gifts they might be buying or hoping for. Festivities abound, and many of us find we have little time to really think beyond the immediate demands of each day. The closing of the year and our commitments to catch up with family and friends can take up every spare moment. It is not easy to give ourselves the most precious gift of time to think, to attend to what we hope for - the desires of our heart - this season, and subsequently for the coming year.
During these past weeks we have been reflecting on the three ways in which we, as Christian community, celebrate this feast. We retell the story of the historical birth of Jesus; we celebrate the various ways in which Christ is present in our lives and continues to come to us in ways both expected and surprising. We also believe that the Risen Christ will come again at the end of time. This is the essence of the Christmas message: through the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus we celebrate God’s Kingdom which has come, and is present, both now and not yet. The Christmas Story is one which reminds us that we today play an integral part in the advent of God’s Reign. In and through our living of our Baptismal vocation we are bringing God’s Reign of Love to fruition in our world.
We are moving along the continuum of living into Advent hope, through a hope founded on trust, lived out in patience and active connectedness with each other and with the whole of creation in the reality of our lives. In our opening prayer this Sunday we pray that God will “Lift our minds in watchful hope … and open our minds to receive the Spirit who prepares us for his coming.” This fourth week of Advent invites us to an attentive hope and to open our hearts and minds as we reflect on what it might be that the Holy Spirit is preparing us for. The readings call us to attend with care to what we experience as real in our lives today, and to what, through God’s transforming love, is possible for our future.
In the Gospel we hear a familiar story, the Annunciation. We are not told what Mary was doing when the angel Gabriel appeared to her. What we can be sure of is that she was open to hear the unexpected in her life. She had not programmed herself into what could or could not be possible in terms of her understanding of who she was as a young woman from society’s “backblocks” with little education or opportunity on the large scale of life. While many art works present Mary kneeling in prayer, it may be that it was while she was doing her daily chores that she had this life-opening experience. The experience and promise of the Annunciation was something she could never have envisaged for herself. Her response was one of trusting openness, of faithful hope that took shape in her loving “Yes”.
Mary’s receptivity to her vocation, to God’s invitation, enabled her to live her life just one day at a time. She grew in “wisdom, age and grace” accordingly. The woman who gave birth to her Son in the simplicity of a stable received his broken body in her arms at his death. Our Christian vocation, like that of Mary, is a vocation to live the Mystery of Christ in our own lives just one day at a time, whatever our circumstances, our hopes and our fears for ourselves and for all those we love.
Our watchful openness to the “new” in our lives can lead us into ever deeper understanding of our call to grow in Christian maturity. The vocation to holiness, community, mission and ministry opens us to lives of active witness to God’s loving presence in our world today. As we mature we can look back and see the ways in which our hurts, disappointments and our failures have opened us up to greater depths of compassion than we could have known without the transforming mystery of suffering.
Christmas carries a complexity of experiences. It is a time for family and friendship, but for many it is fraught with anxiety. We can carry the baggage of misunderstandings and unhappy memories from the past into the present. Yet the feast of Christmas reminds us that healing of memories is possible, and that sometimes openness to forgiveness of ourselves and to self-acceptance needs to precede forgiveness of those who have hurt us. Whatever hidden or recognized feelings we have about Christmas, the promise of God’s saving love is open to us to receive, as Mary received it and brought it to birth in Jesus. No matter how alone or uncertain Mary may have felt in her experience as Christ-bearer she lived her “Yes” to fruition. It is to this same call to live the fullness of our “yes” to God’s saving promise in our lives that each one of us is called. Advent asks us to give ourselves the time and the attention we need that we may be open to God’s transforming Presence in our lives.
Comments from Alumni to this week's Reflection:
"Thank you, Sr. Maryanne, for acknowledging the complexity of human relationships and encouraging us to continue to hope for openness and healing."