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Watches of the Night
“Upon Your Walls”
As we enter into the season of Advent this Sunday, in the Gospel from St. Mark Jesus exhorts his disciples and us: “Be watchful! Be alert!...Watch!” (Mark 13:33,37). We begin this new liturgical season with the punctuation marks of Advent. We note three exclamation points as Jesus warns his disciples to remain spiritually vigilant for his second coming. There is a sense of “Advent urgency”--a call to be “Advent alert”.
“Watchtower of the desert”
On this second Sunday of Advent we hear “a voice of one crying out in the desert” (Mark1:3). This is the voice of one who has been drawn into God's “devouring passion”. God wishes to “devour” humanity with His Love. An intercessor “is one who is devoured by God. He forms one being with God” (Listen, Prophets. George A. Maloney, S. J.; p. 15). This voice is the voice of one who has been formed in the “forge” of God's Heart--formed in the interior life.
“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”
Perhaps the most well known Advent carol in the Catholic Church is, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”. The word, Advent, means “coming”. The use of the double phrase, “O Come, O Come” in the song title reminds me of the twofold character of the season of Advent: 1) Remembering the first Coming of Jesus (the “already”); and, 2) Awaiting the Second Coming of Jesus at the end of time (the “not yet”). We live in the time between the first and second comings of Jesus.
“People, Look East”
“People, Look East” is one of the songs that is sung during the liturgical season of Advent in the Catholic Church (“People, look East, and sing today: Love, the Guest, is on the way”--The Oxford Book of Carols, 1928). Traditionally in the Catholic Church mass was always celebrated--the Sacrifice of the Lamb was offered--while facing east. The rising of the sun in the East was seen as a symbol of the Resurrection of Jesus and of His Second Coming.
“A New Season”
Each year on December 21st in the United States and the rest of the northern hemisphere the winter solstice occurs. It is the shortest day of the year with the least amount of daylight and the greatest amount of darkness. In the U.S., there are only about 9 ½ hours of daylight on this day. It is the first day of winter. In the Church on this same day each year, December 21st,, late in the liturgical season of Advent, the mass readings are always from either the Song of Songs (Songs. 2:8-14) or the Prophet Zephaniah (Zeph. 3:14-18), and the gospel is from St. Luke (Luke. 1:39-45). Yet, these readings speak of a new season of fragrance, beauty, sound and fruitfulness: The fragrant freshness of a new springtime.
Traditionally, the third Sunday of Advent is known as “Gaudete” Sunday. Gaudete is a Latin word which means “rejoice”. In Luke 1:28 we read, “Rejoice, full of grace.” The first word that the Father speaks to Mary through the angel, Gabriel, at the scene of the Annunciation is the word, “rejoice”. It is the first word of the new creation spoken to the heart of Mary for all of humanity to receive. This fact reveals a profound truth regarding God's intention for humanity.
“But That Night”
This is one of the rare years when both the 4th Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve are celebrated on the same calendar day of December 24th. The “night watch” of Advent (covenant promise) moves quickly this year into the “New Dawn” of Christmas (Christmas covenant) abruptly without a 4th week of Advent. I am reminded that the word, Advent, and the word, covenant, both share the same root meaning in the English language: “to come”: “The King shall come when morning dawns”.
“An Advent of Abounding Love”
On this first Sunday of Advent we hear St. Paul's First Letter to the Thessalonians. This is the first letter he ever wrote to any of the Christian communities. Paul wrote this letter around the year A.D. 51—only eighteen years after Jesus' death, resurrection, ascension and the sending forth of the holy Spirit at Pentecost. At the time of the writing of this letter Paul believed that Jesus' second coming was imminent (about to occur).
Advent offers an invitation to contemplative intercessors to enter into the “desert of our hearts” through the disciplines of prayer, penance, silence and solitude. On this second Sunday of Advent, we hear of the desert in The Gospel of St. Luke: “The word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert...A voice of one crying out in the desert...” (Luke 3: 2,4).
This third Sunday of Advent is traditionally known as “Guadete Sunday” (Guadete is the Latin word for “rejoice”). Our first two readings this Sunday (Zephaniah 3:14-18a; Philippians 4:4-7) encourage us to praise God with joy in our hearts. In a prophetic burst of energy the Prophet, Zephaniah, exhorts us: “Shout for joy...sing joyfully...Be glad and exult with all your heart...The LORD is in your midst...be not discouraged!”
“Advent Dwelling Place”
On this 4th Sunday of Advent our gospel is from St. Luke. It is the story of the Visitation of Mary (Luke 1:39-45). Immediately following the last verse (v.38) of the scene of the Annunciation we hear that, “Mary set out..in haste.” She does not go alone! For, “the Immaculate virgin...became the dwelling place of divinity” (Roman Missal, collect for Dec. 20th, p.27). Filled with the divine life of God at the Annunciation Mary goes in haste to bring God's presence to Elizabeth and John the Baptist:
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