December 9, 2016

Rejoice in the Lord

Saints for Advent: Mary of Nazareth, John the Baptist

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin

Advent is one of my favorite liturgical seasons. I think the themes of ardent longing and hope-filled expectation, which are central to our celebration of Advent, speak to us in a special way today. Why? Because our time seems especially anxious, unsettled and on the lookout for some form of salvation.

It’s true that every Jewish and Christian era can be characterized as a time of expectant longing. Beginning with God’s promise to Abraham, through the Exodus experience and the trials and tribulations of God’s people up to the time of Mary of Nazareth, Israel was (and still is) a nation that longs for the salvation that can only come from God.

We Christians believe that God’s saving intervention in human history occurred through the birth, death and resurrection of Mary’s son, Jesus, whom we call the Christ, the anointed one, the Messiah.

But our rejoicing in the redemptive work already accomplished by God doesn’t totally eliminate our longing. In fact, our hope-filled expectation is intensified throughout the course of human history precisely because we believe that our Lord and Savior will come again at the end of time.

So while our understanding of this time of expectation differs from our Jewish sisters and brothers, our experience of it is no less real. Together, we wait in joyful hope for the day when the God of Abraham, who we Christians believe is also the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, will consummate the work of creation and make all things one in him.

The two figures who are most prominent in the Advent season are Mary and John the Baptist. We may call them Advent saints because their words and example speak directly to both our ardent longing and our hope-filled expectation.

Both of these Advent saints can be seen as “connectors” between the Old Testament desire for salvation and the New Testament experience of it in Christ.

Mary opens her heart and says “yes” to God’s saving word. She lets go of hesitation and fear, entrusting herself to the redemptive power of God’s love.

Mary’s example points us to Christ and to his coming again in glory. She forcefully reminds us that what we are experiencing here and now—all the joys, sorrows, hopes, fears, triumphs and tragedies of our lives—mean nothing compared to the happiness and peace we will experience when her son, our Lord and Savior, unites us with him once and for all.

John the Baptist is Christ’s herald, the voice crying out in the wilderness, who seeks to prepare us for the Lord’s coming. John does not soft-peddle the wickedness and infidelity of his time (or ours). He confronts the hypocrisy and deceit that surround him by speaking the truth with love. He urges us to find true happiness and joy through repentance and a genuine change of heart.

In our day, the season of Advent is frequently overshadowed by the sights, sounds and commercial practices of a secularized Christmas. This is a shame. How can we fully appreciate the joys of Christmas without first calling attention to the intense longing for God’s love and mercy that makes the coming of Christ—2,000 years ago in Bethlehem, daily in the celebration of the Eucharist or in the future at the end of time—such a truly amazing gift from God?

Advent prepares us for Christmas the way St. John the Baptist prepared the people of his day for Christ. Advent invites us to open our hearts to God’s saving intervention the way Mary said “yes” to God’s messenger, the angel Gabriel, who invited her to set aside her fears and rejoice in God’s incarnation through her.

I urge all Catholics in central and southern Indiana to take Advent seriously. Don’t let this marvelous season of grace slip by you as you go about your daily business in the weeks before Christmas.

Let the sights, sounds and opportunities of this time of ardent longing and hope-filled expectation fill your heart with joyful waiting. Let the examples of our Blessed Mother Mary and the holy martyr St. John the Baptist inspire you with true happiness and joy through repentance and a genuine change of heart.

During this holy season of Advent, my prayers are with every member of our archdiocesan family—and all our sisters and brothers throughout central and southern Indiana regardless of their religious, economic or social backgrounds.

May the anxieties and fears we are experiencing during this time in our history be alleviated by the love and mercy the members of God’s family show to one another as we wait in hope for the Lord’s coming again. †

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