I’m so grateful for the opportunity to offer a reflection during the Taizé Advent Prayer service at St. Mary of the Lake last night. Special thanks to Michael Ruzicki, all of our musicians and readers, and everyone who joined us for a beautiful evening of prayer. Below is my reflection.
For many years, I had the great privilege of traveling to Nicaragua on mission during the early weeks of December. Those of us from United States are easily fooled by the warm weather, and the Christmas décor in the rural mountain villages is often limited to a single strand of lights. But the true meaning of Advent and Christmas, the celebration of God-with-us, is quite evident.
One day, I was sitting with the kids in the after school program, making Christmas cards with the 3rd graders. We were surrounded by brightly colored construction paper and a brand new box of markers! In my very limited Spanish, I was attempting to come up with the most poetic and theologically astute Christmas greeting. Meanwhile, 8-year-old Norita decorated a lovely card, quickly scribbled something on the inside, and tossed it onto the table. She finished an entire second card, while I was still trying to come up with something more creative than “Feliz Navidad”. I picked up Norita’s card, where she had drawn 3 stick figures in a manger scene, and I slowly opened it. Using a red crayola marker, in crooked swirly letters, she wrote “Jesús te Ama” – Jesus Loves You.
It was so simple, yet so profound. And it perfectly summarizes the mystery of the incarnation, the entire meaning of Christmas in three small words. Jesus loves you. The reason God dared to become human is because he loves us. God wants so deeply to be in relationship with us that God became small, vulnerable, and poor – and become one of us in the person of Jesus.
In tonight’s reflection from Cardinal Ratzinger we hear that “Advent is concerned with the connection between memory and hope, most profoundly the memory of God who became a child.” 1
Let’s be clear, Advent is not simply a recollection of a historical memory. This is not a remembrance of an event that took place 2000 years ago. Yes, Jesus was a man who was born, a beloved preacher and teacher, who was put to death and rose again. But Christmas is not a birthday party for some great historical figure – nothing against chocolate cake and party hats, of course!
Advent is meant to awaken in us the memory of God with us, God who is always with us, God who is still with us! Christ is born again today when we live lives of Love, when we enact the message of the Gospel, when we bring the good news of Christ to others.
How would your life be different if – at every waking moment – you knew that you were loved? How would the world be different if those in power were motivated by love? Not by wealth or ego or jealous ambition, but by justice and mercy?
It is easy to forget. Especially among the trappings of a holiday season full of parties, and gift giving, and excess. But even in the ordinary times of our calendar year – seasons marked by busyness, or tragedy, or the mundane minutia of getting through each day – it is easy to forget that God is here. God is still here. Jesus loves you.
It’s why we take time in silence, to still our restless hearts. It is why, during Advent, we light one candle, and next week we light one more, and then another. To call to mind again that the light of God’s love pierces the darkness.
In this season of longing and hopeful anticipation, we watch and wait for the presence of Jesus. Because everything changes when Jesus arrives. Everything changes when we are in the presence of Love. The sick are healed, the hungry are fed. Those who were ostracized are brought into community. When we know we are loved, we somehow find new courage to speak and integrity to act. The kingdom of God emerges.
This is our hope! Hope dares to believe that God’s promises of mercy are true! Saint Oscar Romero, in a Christmas Eve homily, once wrote, “We can hope for peace and justice and a kingdom of divine right; we can hope for something holy and far beyond earthly realities, not because we humans can create this blessing proclaimed by God’s sacred words, but because God is already in the midst of humanity, building a kingdom of justice and love and peace.”
Throughout Advent we sing that beautiful chorus, “O Come, O Come! Emmanuel!” In song, we beg the Almighty one to “Please come!” Please come to the places we would rather not go. Please come to the places so desperately in need of your love.
If Advent is concerned with connecting memory and hope, then hope reminds us that Jesus has already Come! He is already here. As we watch in anticipation, He is also waiting for us. Waiting for us to recognize him in the stranger. Waiting for us to be the sign and presence of Love to those in need.
Jesus waits for us … in hospital rooms and homeless shelters
Jesus waits for us … in those who face depression and domestic violence
Jesus waits for us … on the front lines of the war in Ukraine
Jesus waits for us … at a hunger camp in Somalia
Jesus waits for us … at a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs
Jesus waits for us … at the refugee shelter down the street
Jesus waits for us … in the depth of our grief and disappointment
Jesus waits for us … in the broken places deep inside our own heart,
those places most in need of healing, forgiveness, and peace.
Jesus wait for us, because he is already there! Emmanuel, God with us, has already come. Even as we wait and long to recognize his presence. God holds true to the promise, that even in our darkest moments, we are never alone. All will somehow be redeemed, and life will be made whole again. Because Jesus loves us. Jesus loves you! Jesús te ama.
1-An excerpt from the book “Seek That Which is Above” by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.
Advent is concerned with that very connection between memory and hope which is so necessary to man. Advent’s intention is to awaken the most profound and basic emotional memory within us, namely, the memory of the God who became a child. This is a healing memory; it brings hope. The purpose of the Church’s year is continually to rehearse her great history of memories, to awaken the heart’s memory so that it can discern the star of hope.…It is the beautiful task of Advent to awaken in all of us memories of goodness and thus to open doors of hope.