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Daily Catholic Advent prayers based on Scripture readings. Advent is a a time of waiting, and these reflections emphasize the sense of anticipation Catholics feel in the weeks leading to Christmas, especially in the stories of Mary and Elizabeth and the prophecies of John the Baptist and Isaiah.

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Advent: Waiting in Joyful Hope

Sometimes it seems as though we spend our lives waiting. Daydreaming about an upcoming vacation, worrying over a medical test, preparing for the birth of grandchild—our days are filled with anticipation and anxiety over what the future holds.

As Catholic Christians, we too spend our lives waiting. But we are waiting for something much bigger than a trip, bigger even than retirement or a wedding: We are waiting for the return of Jesus in glory. Advent heightens this sense of waiting, because it marks not only our anticipation of Jesus' final coming, but also our remembrance of his arrival into our world more than 2,000 years ago.

Overwhelmed by the demands of the season, we can wait for Jesus in a state of anxiety, or cynicism, or harried indifference toward the miracle that is upon us. Or we can take our cue from the prayer we hear every Sunday and "wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ." Welcoming Jesus into our homes and our hearts, full of hope and joy, prepares us to properly celebrate Jesus' birth and anticipate his return.

The stories of Advent help us strike the right note for our wait: the prophecies of Isaiah and John the Baptist, full of their own stern hope; the pregnancies of Mary and Elizabeth, each as joyous as it is unexpected; the miracles, cures and other signs pointing the way to the Savior. Use these reflections to immerse yourself in the season, and find your own hope and joy along the wait.


First Sunday of Advent

This Sunday's Gospel reading centers on the Second Coming. Some popular books, such as the Left Behind series, speculate on what the end of the world might be like. They envision millions of Christians whisked away to heaven, followed by a fervent battle between good and evil. These accounts may be entertaining, but Scripture does not support them. And the fact remains that we don't know what the future holds; we know only that God is good, and that his goodness will prevail in the end. That is why we wait in hope, rather than in fear.

(Is 2:1-5; Mt 8:5-11)

Dream a little. In a famous passage, Isaiah speaks of a time beyond war. How would a world at peace look to you? Spend a few minutes today quietly contemplating what it would take to achieve it. Then look for something small you can do to advance it in your corner of the world.

(Is 11:1-10; Luke 10:21-24)

Let a child lead you. Today's readings remind us that our Savior came to us not as a powerful king, but as a helpless infant. Think of how we prepare for the arrival of a baby: buying clothes, setting up the nursery, poring over name books. We wait this Advent for the child who will lead us. Are you preparing for Jesus' birth with the care it deserves?

(Is 25:6-10a; Mt 15:29-37)

Make a spiritual resolution. New Year's Day is still a month away, but this week begins a new year in the Church. We begin January full of resolutions to lose weight or save money. During this first week of Advent, do the same thing for your faith.

(Is 26:1-6; Mt 7:21, 24-27)

Pray for patience. The next time you become impatient during a wait, perhaps in traffic or the grocery store, think of people in developing countries who wait all day for a bus that never comes, and return the next day to wait again. Spend the rest of your wait praying for that kind of patience.

(Is 19:17-24; Mt 9:27-31)

Open your eyes. Physical blindness in Scripture is a metaphor for the spiritual blindness that afflicts us all. We too often overlook or ignore the needs of those around us, whether it's a homeless person or an ill co-worker. Reach out today to fulfill a need that you've neglected to see before.

(Is 30:19-21, 23-26; Mt 9:35—10:1, 6-8)

Let Advent into your home. It's not too late to start an Advent observance. Create or buy an Advent wreath, Advent calendar or Jesse tree today. Let your creation remind you daily that we are waiting for Christ to come.

Second Sunday of Advent

"'Hope' is the thing with feathers—/That perches in—the soul—/And sings the tune without the words /And never stops—at all—." Emily Dickinson's definition of hope captures what many of us have a hard time defining. Hope is not blind optimism, nor arrogant certainty, nor wishful thinking. Hope, the theme of today's Gospel, is the knowledge that God would not desert us, that we will endure difficult times to see a better day. Hope gives us the strength to seek peace and demand justice, and to envision the world as God intended it to be.

(Is 35:1-10; Lk 5:17-26)

Look for miracles. "We have seen strange things today," the crowd says after seeing Jesus cure an afflicted man. Strange things—miracles, reconciliations, changes of heart—are all around us, but every day we miss them because we're busy looking elsewhere. Make it a habit to find one example of God at work in your life each day.

(Is 40:1-11; Mt 18:12-14)

Acknowledge your sins. Today's Gospel, along with the parable of the prodigal son, shows the lengths God will go to in order to save each of us. It is easy to resent the "troublemaker" who gets all the attention, but that misses the point: We are each the lost sheep, the prodigal son, in need of salvation. God in his mercy is offering us just that.

(Is 40:25-31; Mt 11:28-30)

Seek respite with God. Both readings today promise rest to the weary. And who isn't weary this time of year? You don't have to cut yourself off from the season's busyness to find rest. Grasp moments of quiet meditation wherever you can find them—turn off the radio in your car, or recite the rosary as you clean the house.

(Is 41:13-20; Mt 11:11-15)

Listen closely. John the Baptist, who heralded Jesus' coming but was ignored and ultimately killed, takes center stage this week. If we saw him on a downtown street today, dressed in rags and preaching with a burning intensity, would we think he was crazy? Or would we listen closely enough to recognize the truth he speaks?

(Is 48:17-19; Mt 11:16-19)

Ignore labels. Sometimes you can't win: Ascetic John is criticized for his severity, while sociable Jesus is called a glutton and worse. Today you're more likely to hear "conservative" and "liberal" thrown around, but the result is the same. Labels blind us to each other's humanity, and to the role in salvation that each one of us must play.

(Sirach 48:1-4, 9-11; Mt 17:10-13)

Carve out some quiet time. The weekends before Christmas are usually nonstop, with little time left for prayer or reflection. It's impossible to forgo the shopping and the parties, but for every busy hour you spend, try to spend an equal amount of time in the quiet, listening and watching for signs of our Savior's arrival.

Third Sunday of Advent

This week we light the rose candle in the Advent wreath, signifying joy. Too often we think joy means getting what we want. But consider the joyful mysteries of the rosary—events filled with surprise and often trepidation. Mary didn't ask to become pregnant before marriage, Elizabeth had despaired of conceiving in her old age, and it took a visit from an angel to convince Joseph that things would be OK. Their joy—and ours too—comes not in getting what we want, but in accepting God's will, even when we don't understand it.

Late Advent readings are by date, beginning December 17.

(Nm 24:2-7, 15-17a; Mt 21:23-27)

Give more. This is the season of giving, from presents for our loved ones to coins we throw in the bell-ringer's kettle. But too often, we give from our excess—the change that would have ended up in our pocket, or our Christmas bonus. Remember that Jesus gave, not from his excess, but from his entire being. Then give away something you love.

(Zephaniah 3:1-2, 9-13; Mt 21:28-32)

Contemplate joy. Spend some time today with these thoughts from Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta: "Joy is prayer—Joy is strength—Joy is love—Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls." And, "Never let anything so fill you with sorrow as to make you forget the joy of the Christ risen."

(Is 45:6c-8, 18, 21c-25; Lk 7:18b-23)

Persevere. Have you ever worked to change your behavior, only to find no one notices? It can be frustrating. Even Jesus sounds a little frustrated—here he is, curing lepers and all, and not even John the Baptist is certain that he's the Messiah. Even if you think no one notices, persevere. God is watching.

(Is 54:1-10; Lk 7:24-30)

Comfort the sorrowful. Amid the merriment of Christmas preparations, there is real pain for people who have suffered loss. Those who have recently lost a loved one or a job dread the holiday season. True joy doesn't deny or ignore pain; rather, it reaches out and shares the burden. Visit or call someone who is suffering today.

(Is 56:1-3a, 6-8; Jn 5:33-36)

Seek reconciliation. Late in pregnancy, many women prepare for the birth of a child by "nesting"—cleaning, making food and otherwise preparing their home. As we draw closer to the birth of Jesus, prepare your soul by participating in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. And seek to repair any strained relationships you may have.

Fourth Sunday of Advent

The long wait is almost over. Jesus' birth is nearly upon us. As we get closer to the end of a wait, our expectations grow, often into something that can't be fulfilled. We think a new job will solve our problems at home, or moving away will fix a broken heart. Christmas especially gets saddled with unrealistic expectations—perhaps of family togetherness or the perfect gift. Are you doing this to Christ's coming? Are you expecting something of Jesus? Or are you simply waiting to meet him and accept him for who he is?

December 17
(Gn 49:2, 8-10; Mt 1:1-17)

Learn your history. The litany of names in Jesus' ancestry often falls on deaf ears. So many strange names—how can we make sense of them all! But examined closely, they are a fascinating tapestry of powerful kings, complicated courtships and other elements of great drama. Ask a relative about your family's own dramatic stories today.

December 18
(Jer 23:5-8; Mt 1:18-24)

Stand up for your convictions. Following Jesus sometimes means ignoring what other people say. No one knew this better than Joseph. Imagine what people said when they learned Mary was pregnant. It might have been easier to go along with his plan to abandon her quietly, but he trusted God and ignored everyone else.

December 19
(Jgs 13:2-7, 24-25; Lk 1:5-25)

Forgive your doubts. Isn't it refreshing to hear Zechariah doubt God? An angel arrives with news of a longed-for son, and he answers, in essence, "Prove it." In dark moments we all have doubted whether God's promises are real. The good news for Zechariah, and for us, is that they are real, and God keeps them even if we doubt.

December 20
(Is 7:10-14; Lk 1:26-38)

Say yes. In our over-committed, over-scheduled world, the last thing many of us want to do is accept another responsibility. Yet couldn't Mary have made the same case? "I'd love to help, God, but this will disrupt my wedding plans, and I don't really have time right now." Is there anything God is asking you to do that you should accept?

December 21
(Sng 2:8-14; Lk 1:39-45)

Rejoice. Consider the scene of the Visitation. Savor the vision of two cousins, their lives turned upside down, reunited to share each other's joyous news. Picture their awkwardly changing bodies as they embrace. How can you not rejoice with them?

December 22
(1 Sm 1:24-28; Lk 1:46-56)

Be humble. Our society does not place great value on humility. We fear being overlooked if we don't assert our own worth. In contrast, Mary sees herself as a "lowly servant" and speaks of the mercy in store for the downtrodden. Let the Magnificat be your guide as you find ways to practice humility.

December 23
(Mal 3:1-4, 4:23-24; Lk 1:57-66)

Accept God's plan. The birth of John the Baptist marks the end of his parents' long and difficult wait for a child, but also the beginning of a life filled with great joy and great sorrow. As our wait ends, we too often find other stories unfolding. Accept the twists and turns as part of God's plan.

December 24
(2 Sm 7:1-5, 8-11, 16; Lk 1:67-79)

Find your role. Zechariah, struck dumb when he doubted, finally finds his voice. What joyful words tumble forth when he understands and accepts his family's role in the Redemption! What role does God want you to take in preparing for Jesus' return, and what joy can you find in that role?

(Is 62:11-12; Lk 2:15-20)

Hope joyfully. The wait of Advent is over, but the wait for the return of Jesus goes on. As we begin our celebration of Christ's birth, continue to nurture a sense of joyful hope as a Christian anticipating the Second Coming. An active prayer life, regular participation in the sacraments and service to others will help ease the wait. So will our knowledge that the season of Christmas, with its quiet miracle of God become flesh, will one day give way to a Christmas that will last for all eternity.

Julie Irwin Zimmerman is a freelance writer who holds an M.A. from University of Chicago's Center for Middle Eastern Studies. Now managing editor of AmericanCatholic.org Web sites, she has written for The American Scholar, the Chicago Tribune, Cincinnati magazine and The Cincinnati Enquirer.

NEXT: Finding the Heart of Jesus' Life (by Kenneth R. Overberg, S.J.)


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