Advent an opportunity to fill darkness with Jesus
A light to shine in our darkness: Jesus, the long anticipated Messiah.
During Advent, Jesus can illuminate our own personal darkness if we allow him, said Jesuit Father Andy Alexander, director of collaborative ministry at Creighton University in Omaha.
And the coming of Jesus in our hearts, which follows from his coming at the first Christmas, also looks forward to his second coming, said Sharon Doran, speaker and director of Seeking Truth, a Bible study apostolate.
“Advent is, of course, a time to prepare for Christmas, but it’s also a very deep opportunity to get in touch with darkness,” Father Alexander said.
On Christmas Eve, we hear the Isaiah passage, “The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light – on those who dwell in the land of gloom, a light has shown,” he said.
The Isaiah readings during Masses throughout Advent are all about promise and hope in the midst of darkness and discouragement, he said. They were written for the Israelites who were separated from their homeland and enslaved in Babylon.
Isaiah promises that the desert will bloom and a time will come for singing, Father Alexander said.
SCRIPTURE AS GUIDE
A dive into Scripture can guide one’s journey through Advent, Doran said.
The coming of the Messiah was widely foretold by the prophets and greatly anticipated by the Jewish people. In fact, more than 400 Old Testament references point to Jesus’ coming, she said.
“Looking through the lens of Jesus, you see the fulfillment of all the messianic prophesies from creation onward,” Doran said.
As Advent begins, readings focus on the end of the world, and then turn to the prophets – especially Isaiah.
“Everything’s talking about the coming of Jesus,” she said. “In Christmas, it’s the first coming – what God has been preparing for thousands of years. And now we have this Advent in our hearts. But we’re also looking toward the second coming.”
“The Old Testament is just packed full of these powerful promises, and they’re all pointing to Jesus – the incarnation,” Doran said.
The church is very wise in her liturgy planning,” she said, “so the best thing you can do is read the daily Mass readings … they’re just pregnant with God’s promises.”
Those readings can be found in “Magnificat,” the booklets of Mass readings and reflections found in many Catholic churches, or by subscription. Scriptural references are also found in the Catholic Voice.
LIGHT IN DARKNESS
These messages of encouragement can be a light for us today, Father Alexander said.
“I think, for each of us today, there are plenty of opportunities to reflect on what we’re experiencing personally, in the church, in our country.
“There are plenty of ways we can acknowledge darkness, discouragement, something that saps our hope and say, this is a season of promise and expectant hope in which the words, ‘Come Lord Jesus’ take on a very deep meaning,” he said.
And that reflection is possible even if people do not have time during this busy season for daily Mass or Scripture study.
Father Alexander suggests being a “contemplative in action” – reflecting in the midst of one’s daily life and finding intimacy with God in all things.
“The central practice is to ask myself, where is my darkness, where do I find the need for light, the need for his coming,” and invite Jesus into that part of our lives, Father Alexander said.
“If you get to Christmas and you haven’t touched your pain, or loneliness, or darkness, you’re going to miss it.”
During this season, people tend to eat more, drink more, buy more things, he said. “We’re trying to fill something instead of recognizing the hunger and saying ‘Come Lord Jesus.’”
Doran also recommends praying the “O Antiphons,” part of the evening Vespers prayer of the church on the last seven days of Advent, Dec. 17-23.
Their name refers to the beginning words of each prayer, such as “O Root of Jesse,” and “O Key of David,” each a different title for the promised Messiah, and refer to Isaiah’s prophesy.
The antiphons, developed by 8th-century Benedictine monks, are based on a composite of Scripture texts, Doran said.
Prayed or chanted before and after the Magnificat (Lk 1:46-55), “Each antiphon casts a distinctive light on Mary’s rejoicing over the gracious acts of God to Israel that are being fulfilled through her,” she said.
“She prays the prayer, she invokes God’s relationship with his people Israel,” Doran said. “She’s the hinge pin … she stands right in the middle of church history.”
Even if not attending a Vespers service or praying the Liturgy of the Hours, the faithful can pray these antiphons “as a way to frame one’s Scripture reading and reflection,” she said, which is one of the best ways to prepare the week before Christmas.
And they each end with the words, Come – to teach us, to rescue us, to free us – they’re invoking, ‘Come Lord Jesus,’ she said.
• The O Antiphons and Advent reflections can be found on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website, www.usccb.org (search O Antiphons).
• Recitations of the O Antiphons can be found at www.discerninghearts.com (search O Antiphons).
• Creighton University’s Collaborative Ministries offers many resources for the Advent season on its website, onlineministries.creighton.edu/collaborativeministry/online (click on Praying Advent).