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“Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, He took him into his arms and blessed God, saying: ‘Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.’ The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted —and you yourself a sword will pierce—so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.’ There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer. And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:25-38).
 
Given their modest circumstances, Mary and Joseph must have been especially surprised at the glorious events in the temple. First, Simeon, an old man filled with the Spirit, takes the child in his arms. He, like Mary earlier in Luke’s Gospel, is moved to praise God in song. Then, the old woman Anna, a prophet, likewise celebrates at the sight of Jesus. She cannot contain her enthusiasm and immediately begins spreading the news of the child.
 
Luke’s Gospel is full of instances in which humble people give dramatic expressions of praise in response to an encounter with the divine. This is fitting and gives us comfort, because the inspiring, empowering, life-giving message of the Gospel is for all, no matter how great or small our place in society may be.
 
No one who encounters Jesus in the episodes described in Luke’s Gospel goes away unchanged, and each responds to that encounter. Mary accepts Simeon’s rather ominous prophecy about her future heartache; Joseph agrees to raise a child that is not his own, knowing people will gossip; Simeon accepts his coming death in peace and praise; and Anna sets out to spread the message.
 
For us, the task is the same: to become attentive to the God who is ever beckoning us into relationship and, through this relationship, take steps to become the person God is calling us to be. In our everyday lives, the more we grow in love, the closer we grow to God and each other.
 
When have I recognized God’s presence in ordinary people or situations, and how has that experience affected me?
 
Adapted from, Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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“Then the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ But Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?’ And the angel said to her in reply, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God’” (Luke 1:30-35).

 

“How can this be?” This is a perfectly normal reaction from a person faced with something that does not seem to make sense. Mary, an ordinary, humble, Jewish girl, is visited by an angel who tells her she will conceive a son, though she has no husband, and this child will be the Messiah that her people have longed for. Her reaction— “How can this be?”—is perfectly understandable.

 

It is what follows Mary’s initial reaction that makes her a model disciple. She doesn’t try to bargain with the angel (“Let me just get married first; then I can be the mother of God”) or take charge of the situation (“If this is going to happen, we have some planning to do!”). Rather, her response is one of complete acceptance of God’s will. “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

 

Mary’s “yes” with no questions or conditions reveals her discipleship. Her “yes” is also paralleled years later in her son’s acceptance of God’s will on the night before his crucifixion: “not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

 

Despite any assurances of what the future will hold, Mary places her complete trust in God and does what God asks. This is the model that we are called to emulate. Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection do not mean that we will never face suffering or difficulty. God simply promises that he will never abandon us, no matter what we face in life.

 

How is God calling you to be a disciple in your life? What holds you back from accepting what God is asking?

 

Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available from the RENEW International online store.

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“And this is the testimony of John. When the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to him to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ he admitted and did not deny it, but admitted, ‘I am not the Christ.’ So they asked him, ‘What are you then? Are you Elijah?’ And he said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the Prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’ So they said to him, ‘Who are you, so we can give an answer to those who sent us? What do you have to say for yourself?’ He said, ‘I am the voice of the one crying out in the desert, make straight the way of the Lord,” as Isaiah the prophet said’” (John 1:19-23).
 
In this Gospel passage, the priests, Levites, and Pharisees all ask John the Baptist what many Jews were wondering: “Who are you? … Are you Elijah? … Are you the Prophet?” (John 1:19-21). John denies any special role for himself. He says that he is just pointing toward “the one who is coming after me” (John 1:27).
 
John models the kind of attitude and behavior that all of us as Christians are called to imitate. All that we are meant to do is to direct others towards Christ. We are not to call attention to ourselves or to heighten our own importance. We are meant to reach beyond ourselves to help others live life to the fullest.
 
This selfless love is found amidst the often overwhelming evils in the world. It is found in those whose charity and works for justice help “to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners” (Isaiah 61: 1, which is this Sunday’s first reading).
 
These acts of selfless love illuminate our world as the holiday lights illuminate a December night. May our actions, too, light up the world.
 
Who are the people who have allowed their self-importance to recede so that you were able to grow and develop into the person God is calling you to be? How can you thank or acknowledge them?
 
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available from the RENEW International online store.

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The India poet Tagore in his poem “Silent Steps” gives us a focus for our Advent prayer and reflection:
 

Have you not heard his silent steps?
He comes, comes, ever comes.
Have you not heard his silent steps?
He comes, comes, ever comes.
Every moment and every age,
every day and every night he comes, comes, ever comes.

 
rainbowAdvent is a word derived from the Latin word adventus. It means “the coming” or “showing forth.” During the season of Advent we celebrate the various comings of God into our human community—into the past, the present, and the future. This Advent season I would like to focus on God’s comings in the present—every moment and every age, every day and every night.
 
Last year I became aware that my voice was hoarse. I thought it must be from all the talking I do; my friends and family readily agreed! However, as the months went on my voice grew hoarser. I finally decided to have my throat checked. I had a friendly conversation with the doctor, and he told me it was probably caused from straining my voice. After the doctor examined me (sticking a camera down my throat), to his surprise and my shock the doctor found a lesion on my right vocal cord, and he suspected cancer. You know how this goes—feeling overwhelmed by the “c” word, a cacophony of advice from all interested parties, more tests, two biopsies, a second opinion, an obsessive internet search, and finally all the preparations for surgery.
 
There were many experiences of God’s presence during that time, but one stands out. After surgery I had to be completely silent for a week—that in itself required divine intervention. I decided it was best to spend the period of silence and recovery with my sister Mary at her lake house in upstate New York. As we were driving to the lake there was an eerie silence. Usually we both talk incessantly and sometimes at the same time. As we came around a huge curve in the road, there was a rainbow. It was one of those full rainbows. Mary spoke my immediate thoughts: “Look at the rainbow. It is a sign from God; all will be well.” Mary pulled over, and I took a photo with my phone. I experienced a coming of God on a country road in upstate New York. Over those next weeks I often reflected on that photo and once again experienced God’s presence and assurance.
 
God comes, every moment and every age, every day and every night, if we but notice and place our trust in him. Advent is a season to be even more aware of God coming to us and an opportunity for us to come home to God.
 
Sr. Terry Rickard is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.

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“John was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He fed on locusts and wild honey. And this is what he proclaimed: ‘One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit’” (Mark 1:6-8).

 

This Gospel opens with the declaration of Jesus as the Son of God and then introduces John the Baptist as the messenger who prepares the way of the Lord. To do so, John called the people to repent, acknowledge their sins, and undergo baptism for forgiveness.

 

Unlike Lent, Advent is not primarily a penitential season. However, Advent does invite us to acknowledge what stands in the way of God’s reign. While John was looking forward to Christ’s first coming, we are looking forward to his coming to us anew each day and to his return in glory at the end of time, when God’s reign will be fulfilled. John’s call is still valid to us – repentance and forgiveness are essential for those who prepare the way of the Lord.

 

What do you need to be forgiven for? Whom do you need to forgive? How can you make forgiveness real in your life this Advent, as a means of preparing the way of the Lord?

 

Our journey through Advent also teaches us a value needed while awaiting the fulfillment of God’s reign – patience. We sometimes want to “get through” Advent and get to Christmas. We are like the child who can’t wait to unwrap the presents lying under the Christmas tree. We naturally want to enjoy the glory of God’s reign here and now, but Advent feeds us the wild honey of joyful expectation, reminding us that the reign of God is already being experienced, but not yet complete.

 

What things try your patience? What might God be telling you about your response to situations that try your patience?

 

Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available from the RENEW International online store.

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