Advent series, part III
(Part I: “In the darkness of winter a light breaks forth: Jesus” by Bishop Robert Morneau.)
(Part II: “What we can learn from Christmas plants” by Deacon Jim Trzinski.)
(Part IV: “Advent: From waiting and watching to rejoicing” by Bishop Robert Banks.)
(Part V: “Advent’s darkness gives way to light of Christ” by Sr. Ann Rehrauer.)
At this time of year I often think about my maternal grandmother, who hated the onset of winter. Even before the first snow fell, she felt trapped inside. The cold settled in her bones so everything ached and the darkness seemed to settle in her soul. Today she may have been diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder and there would have been remedies — but in those days, late autumn and winter were difficult and dark times.
I, on the other hand, love late autumn and especially the time of Advent. At first, nature “rails against the dying of the light” and windy days strip the final foliage from branches that had produced abundant fruit and colors to warm our hearts. But when the harvest has been gathered, the earth at last surrenders to a time of quiet and accepts permission to lie fallow to regain energy that will be needed again.
At this point in my life, that permission to ponder and ruminate seems very attractive. (Of course, by mid-February I will be feeling differently about the darkness, the quiet and the snow.)
In Advent, life looks, sounds and feels different. Sometimes it’s quiet enough to hear a snowflake fall and dark enough to see stars that sparkle with a greater brilliance than at any other time of the year. If we have the wisdom of Mother Nature and resist the demands and expectations of a commercial approach, we can even feel the expectation of Advent that will not be satisfied with anything less than Jesus.
In his inaugural address, a former U.S. president used the image of “points of light” to raise a sense of hope and pride in a nation weary of fighting in foreign lands and of days of economic downturn and social unrest. Those “points of light” were people making a positive difference in the midst of difficult days.
At this time, the church also offers Advent “stars,” or points of light, to a people who walk in darkness. The first is the prophet Isaiah who, in a time of war and seemingly endless waiting, kept the promise alive and offered words of hope. That fulfillment, even a limited fulfillment of God’s design, was present in and prefigured by a young woman who bore the heir of King Hezekiah.
John the Baptist called the people of his day to recognize and pay attention to the signs of the kingdom already present in their midst: the blind see, the deaf hear and the poor have the Gospel preached to them — so get ready — for change. And reform your lives!
And a woman of faith who pondered God’s word in her heart so deeply that the word became flesh and continues to live in our midst — even to this very day.
Advent stars continue to shine — even in today’s dark winter sky.
Who are the points of light whom you see?
Where has God’s word been pondered so deeply that it has taken flesh and is visible for all to recognize?
What are the signs of God’s kingdom already present in your midst?
It may be at St. John’s Shelter in the volunteers who provide food and presence, but also in the guests who graciously receive what we are able to share; in Toys for Tots as grandparents, childless couples, and even children express the meaning of the Christmas gift who came to be shared; or in Salvation Army kettles where people give without seeking recognition; or carolers and visitors who brighten lonely days and dispel the gloom of depression from aching hearts; or in loving parents working day after day to feed and clothe and shelter families so that they know that they are loved; or in homilies that inspire and challenge; and in church settings that help us pray into the mystery of God-with-us.
Stars shine in spring and summer, but they never seem to sparkle as clearly as in winter darkness — maybe because we need them more. Perhaps this week you may be the Advent star to someone who is walking in darkness — and in need of a visible and powerful sign of the word made flesh who still dwells among us.
Sr. Rehrauer is vice president of the Sisters of St. Francis and former director of worship and evangelization and former chancellor of the Green Bay Diocese.