|‘A Birth into Hope’
1Pt 1:3 MKQ '08|
Years ago I remember seeing a photo in a magazine of a Christmas tableau: In the foreground is Mary, a young mother, serenely holding her baby Jesus. Behind her on a scrim was a picture of an older Mary, full of grief, at the foot of the cross
I thought, ‘How odd to have these two pictures juxtaposition so at Christmas time.’ Upon reflection, though, I realized many women of the ancient world gave birth in poor conditions only to have their hearts broken to see their sons crucified. Sadly, in many places of our world today women grieve over their sons lost to violence. Yet, we will celebrate this particular birth and make sense of it because of his death and resurrection, and of Jesus’ promise to be Emmanuel ‘with us to the end of the age.’ Mt 28:20
During this season we recall Jesus’ first coming as a baby, the longed for Messiah, as we also await his Second Coming as the King of Glory. We are a people stuck in the middle time. Our being stuck in this middle time isn’t really bad because, in truth, not only has Jesus come and is coming, but Jesus, the Hope of all hearts, is here with us right now living among us.
Where? Not in our frantic Western culture that completely forgets that this is a time to slow down and savor that which we will celebrate on the 25th, that is Jesus, not a new born babe, but Jesus dwelling in each and every heart here and now!
Looking how to tie all the above in with our charism and foundress Blessed Maria Celeste Crostarosa, I discovered she wrote nothing about Advent. Any reflection she wrote in December was about her two basic themes: love of the cross and self-annihilation: letting go of everything that pleases the senses for love of God. But Bl. Celeste does say we should awaken to the knowledge that our loving, incarnate Jesus is already in our hearts waiting for us there. It is our mission to be consciously aware of this divine indwelling. I found a book of Celeste’s Spiritual Songs translated by one of our sisters in Canada that had a few poems dedicated to the Infant Jesus. One poem, The Birth of Jesus Christ ends with her speaking to the Virgin Mary, “Give me your Son, do not refuse Him to me; that I may let him grow within my heart! All my love I give as cradle.” Isn’t that beautiful? “All my love I give as a cradle.”
We can think of Advent as an invitation to welcome Jesus more deeply, more dearly, into our hearts so to share Jesus’ love more clearly in all our words and actions and thus make this middle time, this now, a visible witness of the kingdom of God active and alive in the present moment.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus says, of my friend John the Baptist, that his prophet was sent to ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’ Mt 3:3 That reminds me think of Isaiah’s voice crying out about the rugged lands being made smooth and the old Spanish proverb, ‘God writes straight with crooked lines.’ Top this off with something I read somewhere of an old wise black woman who said, ‘If the mountain is smooth you cannot climb it.’ Straight paths, crooked lines, rugged land, smooth mountains. How can we prepare the way of the Lord into our hearts with such differing instructions and observations?
Bl. Maria Celeste wrote not so much of Christ’s birth but of his redeeming death. In fact, another poem she wrote is entitled, Song to the Baby Jesus about His
Passion. She was a typical Neapolitan and a mystic of the eighteen century ~ a person full of passion. She never backed away from the truth that in God’s love for us God became incarnate, lived and died and was raised to new life. So, how can we prepare the way of the Lord with such differing instructions and observations? Bl. Celeste had the answer: the fixed gaze. With our gaze fixed on Jesus we will make a straight path for Emmanuel to come into our hearts where ‘he will guide us in the way of faith that is alive in hope and charity that leads directly to heaven.’ (Florilegium 19) With our gaze fixed on Jesus we will see, usually in retrospect, how the crooked lines of our life were leading us straight to God according to God’s Divine Love. We will see that all along Jesus has been gazing at us with such a tender smile of compassion, encouraging us to climb the rugged mountain, not the smooth, because we know the surest path is not the slippery slope, but rather the one we can hold on to; the one with all the rocks and boulders of our life: the highs and lows of our work-a-day life, the joys and sorrows, the challenges and struggles. All are means to climbing the heights to see clearer God’s action in our lives.
So, as we climb the rugged mountain along our crooked paths this Advent with our eyes fixed straight ahead on Jesus, let us sing praises to our God who is present to us in the here and now by our acts of faith, hope and love, as we strive to be visible witnesses of Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-us, and in us, and to one another. This is the heart of Advent.
After her reflection, Sr. Moira led the Associates in doing an Advent craft of making hearts because “God so loved the world that God gave us his only Son.” Jn 3:16 We cut out 6 heart-shaped colored pieces and glued the insides together to make rounded, three dimensional hearts. On the inside, before they glued them together, they could write an intention or a name of someone they wished to keep in prayer. Then we hung our prayer hearts on an Advent tree. The meeting ended with prayer and Sr. Moira doing a touching liturgical dance to Amy Grant’s ‘Breath of Heaven.’