Archbishop’s column

Advent is a wonderful time, a time of many graces, of rich scripture passages to pray with and powerful images on which to reflect.

Archbishop's column Archdiocese of Wellington ‘Let us pray that we may take Christ’s coming seriously.’

These words are prayed at every Mass on this the First Sunday of Advent. The next few weeks are about taking Christ’s coming seriously. Advent is a wonderful time, a time of many graces, of rich scripture passages to pray with and powerful images on which to reflect.

Many years ago I remember reading a book that actually changed the way I thought about and prayed with the events we read about in the scriptures.

What I read was that we tend to negate spiritual realities, by taking them outwardly instead of inwardly. Rather than apply something to our own lives and think about how it may change our hearts, we just think of them as events out there, events that happened to someone else. In doing this we do not give the scripture passages the chance to affect our personal lives. The book I was reading gave the example of the birth of Jesus.

The virgin birth is one…this has a powerful meaning…it tells us that the miraculous event, the birth of Christ within us, comes about through the intercourse of divine powers with the eternal human soul. That Christ birth can come in us, too, if our soul interacts with God, and when it does it is just as miraculous and unbelievable as a virgin birth.

In other words, if we get stuck in asking the literal, historical questions:

• Did it really happen like this?

• Was this the exact date?

• Were these the actual historical facts?

• Was it literally this way with Jesus’ birth?

If we get stuck with this kind of question, we never get to the inner meaning and the profound truth of the event, be it Jesus’ birth, the way he healed others, his death, his resurrection.

A few years ago Joy Cowley published an Advent reflection entitled The Gifts of Christmas: An Advent Journey.

There are several parts to this reflection:

• The Annunciation

• Mary’s Song—the Magnificat: Mary’s great prayer of praise for the wonders God has done for her;

• The Journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem;

• The Birth of Jesus; and

• The Shepherds.

In writing of the Annunciation Joy Cowley said that it was the first of the great gifts—ours for the unwrapping. This is a profound truth—this story of the Virgin Birth is not just a 2000-year-old story, it is a rich truth in our lives.

We all have the virgin space within us, a centre that is made for God alone. Nothing else will fill it. It is the innermost sanctuary, the still place beyond words, where we encounter the true nature of Love. Male and female alike, we become pregnant with God and carry Christ within us. It is an ongoing process. It is what we are born for.

This Advent we pray that we take Christ’s coming seriously.

Mary became pregnant with Jesus. God, in generous love, fills us with living presence. In our lives there are special moments of love and beauty, sometimes inspired by scripture, sometimes by the direct word of God in creation; sometimes we are given new insights, new awareness of God through other people and Jesus is brought to birth in us.

If we fail to unwrap the gift, it is because we are temporarily closed to God’s voice whispering in our hearts. Our lives very easily get cluttered with busy-ness, with the idols of words and ideas. We can spend too much time thinking of the past or the future, when in reality we can receive God only in the present moment.

This Advent may we listen to the quiet voice of God and find the simplicity of Mary’s answer: ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord; let what you have said be done to me.’

Joy Cowley’s reflection helps us to ponder the inner meaning of this particular gospel event, the Annunciation. It helps us to reflect on the deep truth of the birth of Jesus.

Are we ready and waiting to hear God’s voice whispering in our hearts this Advent? Are we ready to receive God in the present moment?

I pray that this Advent season be a time of deep and rich prayer, that this coming Christmas you will all be filled with deep peace and abundant blessings as Jesus is born anew within each one of us.