WelCom December 2016:
A Meditation – He Whakaaroaro
ADVENT means ‘approaching’ – something is coming! It is traditionally a four-week season in preparation for Christmas, but the first two weeks focus on the ‘second coming’ of Christ, the time when all will be brought to completion. They follow the feast of Christ the King and conclude the Church’s Ordinary Time, opening us towards a new time of celebrating the Word becoming flesh and living among us. Fr James Lyons presents the second part of his meditation.
The two ‘comings’ complement each other: every beginning has an ending, and every ending makes way for a new beginning.
In this article, the focus is on the second part, the immediate preparation for the birth of Jesus and God’s intervention in human history. The text is in the Gospel of Luke, 1:26 – 2:22.
Here is a meditation with Mary through the time of her hearing and responding to God’s call, to the birth of Jesus and her coming to life in him. The reader is invited to travel with Mary, to experience her fear, her doubt, her hope and her joy – and to invite her into your own life experiences.
This is the second part of Mary’s Advent experience – a coming to long for.
To be part of a census – We all need ‘a place to stand’ our tūrangawaewae, a sense of belonging, somewhere we can point to and say, that’s where I come from; that’s who I am! Being part of a census, being counted among a group of people, helps give me identity and purpose. The call to come together might be inconvenient, even a cause of hardship, but it is an opportunity to reinforce and celebrate a basic human need: to belong, to be a part of something greater than myself.
Only one among many – While needing to belong, none of us likes to feel insignificant. A crowd can be overwhelming, intimidating, insensitive to individual needs. Being one among many can make me feel I have nothing to contribute, or that my absence wouldn’t be noticed. Yet we each do have a part to play; possessing gifts unique to us that must be shared for the good of the whole. Take one out of the many and there is incompleteness, weakness. If another goes, then another…, disintegration quickly follows!
While they were there – Joseph and Mary meet their obligations and contribute to the census. Their participation is a priority for them despite their personal situation. Mary’s time is near; she had every excuse to be selfish. It was Joseph’s family census, his concern. Surely she had enough to be sorry about. But they were also a family; what concerned one, concerned both. And, while they were there, they would certainly need each other.
Searching for room – Today’s young couples doubt they will ever be able to own their own home, such is the cost of housing. In some places entire families are sleeping rough or making do in overcrowded accommodation. Joseph and Mary are desperate for any kind of shelter; the baby’s birth is imminent. Keep them in mind when you hear of people without support or the comfort of friends. Give them some space in your heart.
A child is born – It is Luke who gives us the story of the birth of Jesus. They wrapped him in bands of cloth and laid him in a manger… [Lk 2:7] The image is one of poverty and aloneness; a couple left to themselves in a backyard shed. Yet there is also an atmosphere of profound peace. Mary and Joseph have made their commitment to each other and to God; their trust is unwavering; their love intense and faithful. Their child enters life to the warmest embrace. This is all the shelter and assurance any of them, or, indeed any of us need or yearn for.
Among strangers – Close relatives and friends love to be among the first to greet the parents and their newborn, but the first to lay sight of the child Jesus, we’re told, were total strangers. Roughly clad and roughly spoken, they were more at home with their sheep than among people. But they came, they saw, and became the first to carry the news of this wonder. Mary and Joseph instinctively knew that in the presence of Jesus there are no strangers. All belong. All are welcome. In the world of faith there is only one family.
Do not be afraid – Once again, an experience of great joy is prefaced by fear. Like Mary and Joseph, the shepherds had to be reassured and encouraged. To leave the warmth and safety of their night fire and venture into the dark, and into the town they rarely visited, would not have been an easy decision. Faith calls each of us to leave what we know and are comfortable with, and to ‘walk in the dark’ with only trust as our guide. Trust is not blind to caution; its strength is an inner conviction, born of love.
Shepherds rejoice – Jesus was born in a town throbbing with life. The call for the census had gathered people from a vast area. Revelry and reunions rocked the little town of Bethlehem. But those who caught sight of the couple in the background and their little one taking his first breath, were not at the party, and not distracted by the excitement and the noise. They found an altogether different reason to rejoice. Sometimes it pays to be apart from the crowd, to listen for a new sound, to find a deeper reason to rejoice.
To be at the beginning – A child starts school, a friend marries, a garden flowers, a new job opens up… Being at the beginning of something, witnessing growth and development, can be heart-warming, even life-changing. But it would be hard to surpass the experience of motherhood, knowing a new life depends totally on yours, giving birth and witnessing a new person being formed outside of you. To be at the beginning is to be in a most privileged place. From there you can influence how what begins grows.
To listen – If Mary had not listened to the angel, if Joseph had not listened to his dream… Listening is an art; it has to be formed against an attitude that rates my own opinion ahead of all others. It can also be blocked by fear or panic. To listen is to hear with an expectation of new and helpful knowledge; it is to bow before wisdom, an acknowledgement that I do not have all the answers and am truly seeking guidance. Listen and learn. Listen before deciding.
To treasure and ponder – We have very few words of Mary recorded in the Gospel, but perhaps her greatest communication is her example of ‘interior living’. She was an acute observer of people and of life and drew her experiences with Jesus and his followers into herself. She ‘treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.’ [see Lk 2:52]. To treasure and to ponder is to weave a tapestry that, over time, unfolds patterns making sense of life in and around me. The practice prevents snap or premature judgements, allows for careful discernment and opens up a space for wisdom. This is Mary’s gift to us, alongside her son, Jesus. On our Advent pilgrimage she is our Seat of Wisdom, inviting us to pause, rest and ponder with her the wonders of God.