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Advent Day by Day
Search for Light

by Phyllis Zagano

The Church celebrates the feast of the Birth of John the Baptist in June, around the time of the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. From John—s feast onward, days become shorter and light decreases. Now, during Advent, we approach the winter solstice, the darkest day of the year, that includes nature—s promise of more light to follow.

John knew he must decrease so that Christ may increase. We can take his analogy into our hearts. As we prepare for the coming of Christ, we can try to understand how we can decrease so that Christ may increase in our hearts and in the world.

These Advent reflections express our natural longing for the light of the world.

First Sunday of Advent
Where do we go from here?

Thanksgiving—s rituals of family, food and friends prepared us for the coming weeks of increasing darkness. The outside world is already in Christmas frenzy, urging us to get out there and shop, shop, shop. But the externals of power and possessions do not satisfy the longing. No matter how much we accumulate, there is something else we need. As God—s creations, we can only find security in God—s care. Too many times we forget that, and waste time wandering around in the dark looking for substitutes. Take time this week to be grateful for God—s gifts.

MONDAY
A time of hope

(Is 4:2-6, Mt 8:5-11)
So much of what the prophet Isaiah wrote about ancient Israel applies to our world today. No matter where we are, we fear war. We hold fast to the Lord—s promise: —The Lord—s glory will be shelter and protection: shade from the parching heat of day, refuge and cover from storm and rain.— But how? Fear enters our hearts unbidden, like a thief in the night. It moves around unchallenged until we remember how to dispel it with the light of Christ. Today, list your reasons for hope in the future.

TUESDAY
Peace can enter our hearts

(Is 11:1-10, Lk 10:21-24)
God—s promises are for our world, not for some ancient desert in our imagination. As God—s Spirit rests on Jesus and enters the world through him, we know these promises are real: —The wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid.— But when? And where? Our faith teaches on many levels all at once. Try to work peace between some warring factions in your heart today.

WEDNESDAY
Enough for everyone

(Is 25:6-10a; Mt 15:29-37)
God—s bounty is not like an apple pie that, once eaten, is no more. We often have a hard time believing this, as days grow shorter and the light grows dim. While we can remember the warmth and abundance of summer, we are not always sure it will come around again. But God invites us to the feast, and God—s bounty will stop our tears. Today, practice God—s providence by refusing to be frightened about any future material needs.

THURSDAY
I'm just one person

(Is 26:1-6; Mt 7:21, 24-27)
We are always building. We build homes. We build a network of friends and associates, of memories and of customs. The rock-solid foundation of our society is its citizens. If obligations to family and friends allow, this week participate in one civic activity—a school board or a library committee meeting, or voting in a special election. One person can make a difference in building a just society.

FRIDAY
Recognize light

(Is 29:17-24; Mt 9:27-31)
Physical blindness is a terrifying prospect. Yet we close our eyes in trust for large amounts of time—when we sleep, when we pray, when we rest, when we are in deep thought. God—s promise of great light only comes out of darkness. Just for today, leave aside one distraction. Watching just one fewer television program, or skipping the sports pages, will create more space for God—s enlightenment.

SATURDAY
Help me, O Lord

(Is 30:19-21, 23-26; Mt 9:35—10:1, 5a, 6-8)
Sometimes God seems very distant. While Advent is a time of hopeful waiting for the Lord, it is also a time of deep sorrow and sadness for those who are closing a year filled with loss. The Lord can bind up the wounds of his people only with your help. Perhaps today you can be especially attentive to others— sorrows, notice when they are sad and listen to their grief. You may be the only Jesus they meet all week.

Second Sunday of Advent
Just do it!

Sometimes we are like old cars in the winter. We need to get going, but just can—t get started. John the Baptist did not spend much time getting about his ministry: He just went out and did it! What can you do this week to give you and others a little more time, a little more energy, a little more quiet to prepare the way of the Lord? Maybe a local supermarket will put a box at the checkout to collect food for the poor. Perhaps a neighbor—s driveway needs clearing of snow or leaves. How about taking that nap? What random acts of kindness can you perform this week for others and for yourself?

MONDAY
Traveling on the journey

(Is 35:1-10; Lk 5:17-26)
God has promised that for our journey —a highway will be there, called the holy way.— But there are very few roadmaps for the spiritual life. Saints both ancient and contemporary help us place markers for our journeys by telling us about theirs. This week, learn something about the life of one saint who crosses your path—perhaps there is a statue of him or her in your church—and see if this saint has left any markers for your journey.

TUESDAY
On the road again

(Is 40:1-11; Mt 18:12-14)
The journey is long. Isaiah tells us to —make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God.— If we concentrate on clearing the debris from our interior paths, we will be helping others as well, eventually making way for the coming of the Lord. We don—t always realize how much light or dark we shed on others. Today, keep a little list of every person you speak to. Tonight, ask God to grant light in a special way to each and every one of them.

WEDNESDAY
Our strength is in the Lord

(Is 40:25-31; Mt 11:28-30)
Can you walk and not grow weary? Not many of us can. Advent is only 10 days old and already we may be tired and forgetful of our promises. Is the burden too heavy? Or have we simply refused to allow anyone to help us? Sometimes when we think we are depending on God we are really only depending on ourselves. Today, accept some help when it is offered. Thank the person who holds a door or makes space in a long line of traffic. The important thing is not to accept help as our due, but as the gracious act of another member of the Body of Christ.

THURSDAY
Walking humbly

(Is 41:13-20; Mt 11:11-15)
Today Jesus tells us, —There has been none greater than John the Baptist.— How can this be? During these ever-shorter days of Advent, we remember John said he must decrease. When we move ourselves out of the spotlight and point to Christ, we become greater in the eyes of God. With John the Baptist as our model, we can continue to light the path of others. Spend some time today helping another person get a job.

FRIDAY
Pay attention

(Is 48:17-19; Mt 11:16-19)
Perhaps you have heard the expression: —His lights are out.— Some people tend to daydream a lot. The Lord promises us that if we pay attention our —prosperity will be like a river.— This is true in our work, our interior lives and our relations with others. —Paying attention— does not mean being scrupulous or critical, but rather noticing the small and subtle changes life can bring. This day, pay attention to the small changes in your life and listen for the small changes in the lives of others.

SATURDAY
First things first

(Sir 48:1-4, 9-11; Mt 17:9a, 10-13)
Scripture tells us that Elijah must come before the Messiah, and Jesus reminds us that Elijah has come in the person of John the Baptist. Have we even recognized that he is making straight the way of the Lord? The birth of the Lord is really quite close. Get organized today. Make a list today of tasks, and be sure to include special things to do for the elderly and the lonely, especially in your own family.

Third Sunday of Advent
Preparing the way of the Lord

John the Baptist—s message was simple and clear: Repent! We often forget we might have something to change in our lives. This week many parishes will have communal penance services, with the opportunity for individual confession. No one likes to go to Confession, because no one really likes to give up the past. If we examine our hearts to see where we have not allowed the Lord to enter, we may find there are some sins—small or large—we need to give up permanently. Plan to attend the penance service in your parish, or in a neighboring parish, this week.

The Church has special readings for December 17-23. Follow the daily readings until December 17.

MONDAY
Who's in charge here?

(Nm 24:2-7, 15-17a; Mt 21:23-27)
The human Jesus in Scripture is not all that different from us. People in authority challenge Jesus— right to preach and to heal. We often fail to act because we are waiting for someone else to give us permission. Do you need permission to call a friend? To smile at a stranger? To take a little time for yourself? God gives us permission to act as Jesus would, to others and to ourselves. Be kind to someone you know and to someone you don—t know today. At the end of the day, do something kind for yourself.

TUESDAY
Following orders

(Zep 3:1-2, 9-13; Mt 21:28-32)
When asked to do what we do not want to— do, we can complain or we can comply. Some people do both. When things do not go our way, we cry out to the Lord about his —unfairness.— But eventually we have to follow God—s will in our lives. Often a single person has caused a painful change in our plans. Even if this person hurt you deeply, eventually the larger picture will emerge to show that you were in God—s care at every moment. Pray for someone who has hurt you.

WEDNESDAY
Is it you?

(Is 45:6c-8, 18, 21c-25; Lk 7:18b-23)
Even John the Baptist needed to re-check Jesus— identity. Jesus sent John—s disciples back with the instructions, —Tell John what you have seen and heard.— We are often confused by what we hear when we pray. The silence and darkness of our hearts can be invaded by false prophecy, false light. It is always a good idea to talk about prayer with another person, someone more experienced. Today, consider speaking with a spiritual director about your prayer life.

THURSDAY
Ready or not!

(Is 54:1-10; Lk 7:24-30)
The march of time does not slow for anyone, and there is never enough. Today think of some simple ways to prepare for Christmas that will not take you away from family or friends. Instead of buying gift tags, make ones out of wrapping paper or old cards. Instead of going shopping for decorations, go for a walk with someone and collect pine cones.

FRIDAY
Justice brings peace

(Is 56:1-3a, 6-8; Jn 5:33-36)
Did you ever feel cheated? Maybe the floor man did not return to repair that one bad board. Maybe the grocery bag broke, and you ended up with spaghetti sauce on the floor. Justice in our own lives explains what it means to live in a just society. We know how our peace is disturbed when others do not attend to their responsibilities. For today, concentrate on being just in all you do and say.

(Saturday will always be December 17 or later.)

Fourth Sunday of Advent
Fiat!

The first joyful mystery of the rosary is the Annunciation. Mary was asked to participate fully in God—s plan for her. That is not easy, especially when we have made plans for ourselves. This week, as the day when Mary—s mystery was revealed to the world approaches, consider your own strengths and weaknesses, the special gifts you have to offer Jesus through the People of God. If we spend time thanking God for who we are, we learn better who we will become. God—s plans for us always work out, even if our own plans do not.

DECEMBER 17
Family and friends

(Gn 49:2, 8-10; Mt 1:1-17)
Every year we hear Jesus— family tree, all the way back to David. There are so many generations, it seems possible that everyone in Israel is related to Jesus. In fact the Book of Chronicles shows almost 4,000 years of ancestors to Jesus, who was born over 2,000 years ago. If we really stop to consider our known and unknown relations, we might see the world a little differently. Do that, just for today.

DECEMBER 18
Parents

(Jer 23:5-8; Mt 1:18-25)
Even if we know who all our ancestors are, we have one special set of parents to thank for our lives. An Italian proverb asks why, if one father can raise 12 children, 12 children cannot care for one father. Our society says we need plenty of free time. Self-development is the theme of the day. But too much self-development often becomes self-involvement. And that eliminates caring for our own elderly relatives. Learn where your elderly relatives would really be safest and happiest.

DECEMBER 19
Watch for the sign

(Jgs 13:2-7, 24-25a; Lk 1:5-25)
Politicians have —advance— people who prepare things before they go to a given town. Angels in Scripture foretold the births of Samson and of John the Baptist. Zechariah, John—s father, was struck dumb when he learned he would have a son. We, too, may be —dumbstruck" when we finally recognize God—s plan for us. If we are, it is a sure sign that we have learned what it is. Comfort a young person who may be searching.

DECEMBER 20
Being you

(Is 7:10-14; Lk 1:26-38)
The birth of Christ depends on human acts. Mary said yes to Gabriel—s announcement that she would be the mother of God, but not before asking the obvious question: How? The answer is the same for all God—s plans. The spirit of the Lord will come upon us, but we must cooperate. We must use our human resources to bring Christ to the world. Once we say yes, the rest is easy. Share your gratitude by being secure in who you are.

DECEMBER 21
Secrets of the dark

(Song 2:8-14; Lk 1:39-45)
God comes to us in secret. When Mary went to stay with her cousin Elizabeth until the birth of John the Baptist, Elizabeth knew right away what was going on: —And how does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?— Today is the darkest day of the year. As the earth slumbers, waiting for the coming of the Messiah, spend a little secret time with the Lord.

DECEMBER 22
Thank you!

(1 Sm 1:24-28; Lk 1:46-56)
Gratitude is the cornerstone of the spiritual life. Hannah was delighted with Samuel and offered him to the Lord. Mary praised God—s action in her with the Magnificat. The onslaught of holiday chores and cares may cancel any thoughts of singing. But life itself is a magnificent gift to be grateful for. Pray Mary—s Magnificat with her today, and smile.

DECEMBER 23
Messages and messengers

(Mal 3:1-4; 23-24; Lk 1:57-66)
For some people this season the messages never end. Mailboxes are stuffed with cards; e-mail and voice mail abound. For some people, however, there is not such a frenzy of contact with family, community and colleagues. Christmas is a hard time for many people. As you finish up preparations for Christmas, think about sending a card or making a call or even extending an invitation to someone who is alone.

CHRISTMAS EVE
Let there be light!

This evening the lights will be shining in the church and in our hearts. But outside entire nations still lumber about in the dark, making huge national decisions that affect everyone on the planet. Recall with family and friends that Christ brought justice and peace to all this night. Resolve to make justice and peace a priority in the coming year, as a gift to all.

Christmas Day
Celebrate life!

As you celebrate the day with family and friends, count each card, gift and greeting as a special blessing. Share memories, give compliments, cry a little and laugh a lot. Know that Christ has come into the world and lives in your heart.

Phyllis Zagano is founding co-chair of the Roman Catholic Studies Group of the American Academy of Religion and author of several books, including Holy Saturday: An Argument for the Restoration of the Female Diaconate in the Catholic Church (Crossroad), winner of the 2002 College Theology Society Book Award, and On Prayer: A Letter to My Godchild (Liguori).

Next: The Incarnation (by Kenneth R. Overberg, S.J.)

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