Advent is a time of straightening our paths so that we may walk in the light. As with many of you, journeys and paths, and signs and wonders have been recurring themes on my spiritual journey. I often pray for guidance along my path, but I don’t always pay attention to the signs that God places along the way. God gives us signs to know where to journey, and sent his Word to show us how to travel.
In thinking about my journey this far, I wonder about all those who have prepared the way for me. Who has led me to this place? For whom am I preparing the way? Am I a John the Baptist for others? As I focus on preparing the way for the birth of Christ in me, I need to be aware of ways I can prepare the way for others. Can I help a friend or neighbor with Christmas shopping, for example? What incredible signs and wonders will I see today? Will I be open to receive them?
There have been times along the path when I felt paralyzed, that is, unable to move physically, emotionally, academically, socially, or spiritually. At such times, God sent people into my life to rescue me from paralysis. Advent is a good time for me to be grateful and to reflect on what might be paralyzing me from moving ahead on my journey. Overwork? Too many commitments? Too many deadlines? Overwhelming sadness?
The readings during the second week of Advent seem to be a prescription of how to journey through life. I need to make plans, take action, and not expect my path to be made straight for me. God is leading, helping me to see the path. I need to look for opportunities to show mercy and justice. How often do our everyday choices make the difference between whether there is dark or light, wellbeing or war?
Two feast days during the second week of Advent help us to mark this special time: Mary’s Immaculate Conception celebrated this year on December 9 and Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12. The first feast day commemorates the doctrine that Mary was born free of original sin and its effects from the first moment of her existence. This special grace was conferred on her through the grace of God in anticipation of the redemption. We hail Mary in faith and prayer because she is “full of grace” and because “the Lord is with her.” In other words, Mary was filled with God well before the Messiah was conceived in her womb.
The second feast day celebrates the apparition in Guadalupe, Mexico in 1531. Near Tepayac Hill in central Mexico, Juan Diego encountered a beautiful woman surrounded by a ball of light as bright as the sun. Speaking in his native Aztec tongue, the woman identified herself as the Virgin Mary. Within six years of this apparition, six million Aztecs had converted to Catholicism. In Mary’s willingness to hear the prayers of the indigenous peoples, she is recognized as the mother of the poor and the patron saint of the Americas.
There is another Advent practice that I enjoy, even in the years when I do not actually participate: a Jesse Tree. The Jesse Tree helps us connect the custom of decorating Christmas trees to the events leading to Jesus’ birth. The Jesse Tree is named from Isaiah 11:1: A shoot shall come out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. (the beginning of today’s first reading.) Jesse was the father of King David. We adorn a Jesse Tree with ornaments that represent the people and events leading up to the birth of Jesus. The ornaments of the Jesse Tree tell the story of God in the Old Testament, connecting the Advent season with the faithfulness of God across four thousand years of history.
I would like to recommend a beautiful children’s book about a Jesse Tree:
Countdown to Christmas: 24 Days of the Jesse Tree Tradition by Theresa Seidlitz (Cantor Press, 2013) Allows your family to take time to know the people in the Bible and to see their connection to Jesus. Recommends reading one story every night in the days before Christmas, and hanging an ornament on a small tree to remember the biblical figures, starting with Adam and Eve and ending with Jesus. Includes a complete set of Jesse Tree ornaments on heavy card stock paper to match individual stories in the book.
Coming in the days of shortest daylight, Advent resonates with the themes of light and darkness. We put lights in our windows and on our trees and light candles throughout the house. We wait for the source of our light and our salvation.
The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom should I fear? (Psalm 27:1)
He was a bright and shining lamp, and for a while you were content to rejoice in his light . . . but I have testimony greater than John’s [John the Baptist]. (John 5:35-36)
One of my favorite Advent songs is “Light of the World/Luz del Mundo” from Jaime Cortez’s album, Adviento (2006).
Light of the world, hope for us all, come, o come and save us.
Lux del mundo, Emmanuel, ven, oh ven a salvamos.
People of Zion, the Lord will come to save all nations,
and your hearts will exult to hear his majestic voice.
El Señor nos mostrará su misericordia,
y nuestra tierra producirá su fruto.
Rise up, Jerusalem, stand on the heights
And see the joy that is coming to you from God.
Alégrense siempre en el Señor (2)
El Señor, el Señor está cerca.
Q. In this Advent Season as I focus on preparing the way for the birth of Christ in me, am I aware of ways I can prepare the way for others?
Q. How often do my everyday choices make the difference between whether there is dark or light, wellbeing or war?