Advent Reflection 1
These are difficult times to speak about hope. However it is an interesting fact that in Spanish, (and also in French and Italian) the verb to hope can be translated into English as three different words. The verb esperar in Spanish can mean to hope, to wait for, or to expect. That little piece of trivia gives us something to think about when it comes to reflecting on the season of Advent. It is traditionally presented as a time of waiting and that gives rise to a problem in our culture where waiting is almost universally seen as something negative. There is a widely held belief, promoted very effectively by a whole range of marketing executives, that we can have whatever we want whenever we want it. So why on earth would you wait!
The season of Advent offers a different perspective and that makes it important for our time. It suggests that some things are worth waiting for and that the very act of waiting helps to nourish in us a sense of expectancy and of hope. The waiting that advent promotes is based on a trust that we will not be disappointed because what we are waiting on, hoping for and expecting is nothing less than God.
The prayers and readings of Advent invite us to take the time to reflect on what it is we are waiting for God to do. The people who assist us in this process are characters such as Isaiah an old prophet, John the Baptist, a young prophet and Mary a pregnant teenager. Each in their turn is creative and imaginative, challenging and trusting and they are all people of prayer. Isaiah dared to dream that deserts might be turned into fertile plains, that the blind might see and the deaf might hear. John the Baptist dared to challenge his contemporaries that they needed to think and behave differently if they wanted a better world and Mary of Nazareth dared to believe that God could act through her simple yes to bring a light to the people who sat in darkness. The reason we look to these heroes of hope and expectation is not that we are interested in events of two millennia ago but that we learn from them what to hope for and expect from God now, at this time in our world. We learn from them that when we make gods in our image and likeness, we will be disappointed. They teach us that the key is to let God be God and then transformation occurs. This however requires a prayerful waiting and that does not come easily to us in our instant age. The advertisers would have us jump straight to Christmas – no Advent for them. But if we want Christmas to mean something then we need to spend a little time with Isaiah, John and Mary.
Below you will find some Scripture texts and prayers that might be useful in a school assembly or class context.
On each Monday during Advent the group might gather for the lighting of the candle on the Advent wreath.
A Reading from the Prophet Isaiah 12:2-6
Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the LORD GOD is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.
With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted.
Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Jerusalem, for great in your midst is the living God.
During this season, which is one of hope as we look forward to the birth of Christ, may we learn to place our trust in God who never leaves us or abandons us. May we be open to learning from all our experiences and come to understand that God speaks to us through all the events of our lives, be they good or bad. In this way we can face the future with confidence knowing that God will give us what we need for each day.
Prayers of Intercession
Lord, may our faith and trust in you become deeper this Advent
A Reading from the Prophet Jeremiah (29:10-11)
For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the LORD, and I will restore you and bring you back to myself.
In the story of God’s people in the Bible when times were very bad and people were afraid or downhearted, the prophets taught them the value of turning to God in prayer. They spoke words of great hope because they believed that if we made time for God in our lives then we would learn to see things differently and to become strong in ourselves. As we prepare for Christmas we are invited to do the same, to think not just about what we want but about what God wants for us, and to reflect on why he became one of us. It wasn’t to tell us off or to give out, but to love us and to show us how to love one another.
Prayers of Intercession
Lord, may we learn to make time for prayer and to discover just how close you are to us.
A Reading from the Gospel of Luke (1:46-53)
And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who revere him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”
Advent is a good time for remembering how much we can learn from Mary, the mother of Jesus. We can learn from her words like those in her prayer, the Magnificat . These are words of joy and praise from a girl who, on the face of it, did not have much to be joyful about. However she was willing to believe that God was working in and through her to bring about remarkable change in the world. She also believed that God wanted to do the same in us. So later when her child had grown up she spoke to us and said “Do whatever he tells you.” Also in the story of Christmas she is presented as not saying too much but as simply “pondering these things in her heart.” We can learn from her attitude to her life and what was going on in it. She knew the value of reflecting and would continue to do this even to the end when she stood by the cross of her son.
Prayers of Intercession
Lord, in the person of Mary you teach how us to be open to your Holy Spirit
Lord, in the person of Mary you teach us how to be faithful to your son
A Reading from the Gospel of Luke (2:6-14)
While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see-- I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying: "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!"
And is it true? And is it true,
The English poet Sir John Betjeman gets to the heart of the matter in his simple poem about Christmas. He asks a key question: can it be true that the child in the manger is God? If this is so, and as Catholic Christians we say that it is, then all human life is changed and every human being receives a dignity and value beyond our wildest imaginings. Christmas becomes a feast of hope and incredible joy and it would be very sad if we were to lose sight of that. Of course it is good to party with family and friends and to exchange gifts. It is great to have a bit of fun to get us over the midwinter blues. But Christmas is about much more than that, isn’t it?
Prayers of Intercession
Lord, creator of all that is, you come among us as a human being
Lord, you come among us to offer us forgiveness
Lord, you come among us to bring us peace
Lord, you come among us to give us joy
“We are all meant to be the mother of God for God is always needing to be born” (Meister Eckhart, 13th century German mystic)
The Season of Advent begins marks the beginning of the Church year and it is characterised by the colour purple in the liturgy – the colour of repentance which is in fact all about new beginnings and seeing things differently! At a time of year when the nights are at their longest and sunshine is in short supply we are invited to think sources of light and life and the liturgy puts before us two very different people: John the Baptist and Mary.
Without fear or favour John the prophet calls people into the desert to stop and think and the remarkable thing is they come in their droves. Perhaps this is because they know things are not as they should be, they want a fresh start.
Mary, the young woman from Nazareth presents a different challenge but she is no less caught up in our desire for a new beginning. No loud sermons from her, just a dangerous and dynamic openness to the word of God that quietly brings transformation and life in its fullness.
These are our Advent people nudging us to think outside the box when it comes to preparing for Christmas. So let’s create some moments in our schools when we can do that and leave ourselves open to receiving and giving greatest gift of all.
Lord of darkness and light,
Enter our hidden lives
That we may find your light in the darkness
And your truth in the shadows.
Touch our hearts with the promise of your love
That we may bring to the waiting world
Your compassion for all who suffer
And your joy in all that you have made. Amen