By: Father John Coughlin, OFM//MDS Musings Blog
As we move toward the winter solstice, the days grow shorter and the nights longer. The growing darkness can be a downer for some; and yet for so many Christians, this is a precious and sacred time full of hope and longing. The season of Advent opens our eyes, hearts, and minds to a growing light amidst the darkness. Many mark that growing light with the four candles of the Advent wreath that count down the weeks until Christmas. Some will even place an extra fifth candle in the middle of the wreath to be lit on the first day of the Christmas season. It all reminds us of a growing fullness that was coming to light and to birth from the womb of a virgin some two thousand years ago.
Advent is a time of both joyful expectation and prayerful preparation. For many, it is also a penitential season with a practice of acknowledging and confessing sins. As we wait and make ourselves ready to welcome the King of Kings anew into our hearts at Christmas, one thing that can help us is to look to and learn from Mary. It was she, of course, who gave birth to the Savior.
One of the popular Bible stories to read at this time of year is Luke 1:26-38. This biblical passage recounts the visit of the Angel Gabriel to Mary to deliver a message from God about what God’s plans were for her. When the angel first appeared to her and greeted her she heard the following words: “Hail favored one! The Lord is with you.” Mary then “pondered” those first words (1:28-29). When we ponder we take something deep inside of us and turn it over and over again to try to understand it.
As she is pondering in the story, the angel tells her not to be afraid and communicates to her God’s intentions for her. She was to conceive a child and name him Jesus (1:31-32). She then asks the angel how such a thing could happen since she was not yet with a man (1:34). In her question, we see Mary continuing to seek understanding. When the angel explained to her that she would conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit and the boy would be the “Son of the Most High” (1:35), Mary gave her famous “Yes” to God’s plans: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (1:38).
In Mary we see someone who listens well, ponders, inquires, seeks understanding, has fear but does not it let control her, and finally, affirms God’s will for her. In all of this, she makes space within herself for God to fill. She then conceives and gives birth to God’s Son.
There is so much that is sacred and meaningful during Advent, but we can easily miss it amid the hustle and bustle of trying to get so much done. This time of the year can also cause of anxiety for many. Mary shows us that we can indeed slow down to listen, ponder, and even inquire if we wish. It’s a wonderful time to read and reflect on the Gospel mysteries and other scripture passages associated with Advent.
Journaling can be helpful, too, during this season. Are there any fears and anxieties that we are carrying inside of us? Sometimes naming them and prayerfully placing them in God’s hands can be a source of healing and hope. Advent is also a time of joy. After her angel experience, the pregnant Mary went to visit her relative Elizabeth. The two women then rejoiced together (Luke 1:39-56). What are the joys in our life? What new joy is God calling us to?
In giving birth, Mary gave Christ to the world. She has a way of revealing her son to those who look to her and that will always provide us with understanding. And so, this Advent and beyond, may we have the wisdom to gaze in her direction and the faith to be open to wherever it leads us!
Mount de Sales Academy is a private Catholic school located in Macon, GA, and serves students in Bibb, Houston, Jones, Monroe, Peach and other surrounding counties. MDS is sponsored and inspired by the Sisters of Mercy. Since 1876, MDS has served a diverse college-preparatory community of learners—students and teachers alike—who are poised to discover, challenged to innovate, and motivated to serve.