By Kathy Bueno
As we enter into the Season of Advent I have invited Kathy Bueno, a dear friend and colleague to share her reflections on Advent.
“Sing and rejoice, O daughter Zion! See, I am coming to dwell among you.”
(Zec. 2: 13)
My three-year-old granddaughter loves babies. When we visit Kohl’s Children’s Museum in Glenview, IL, she makes a beeline to the pretend nursery. It features cradles-full of baby dolls with areas to rock them, feed them, bathe and dress them, and give them a check-up. During this season, she also looks forward to Advent preparations when we take the nativity scene out of the box and place the figures on the mantel in the family room. She holds the Baby Jesus carefully and gives him a kiss. Then we put him in a safe place until Christmas Eve when we bring him out and place him in the manger next to Mary and Joseph. Long after Christmas has come and gone, we check on the Baby Jesus from time to time. Making sure he’s okay and giving him a cuddle. Last autumn, her godmother had her first child, a baby girl. Shortly before the baby was due to arrive, the parents still hadn’t settled on a name. They decided to ask my granddaughter if she had any ideas. And her answer was no surprise really: “Baby Jesus.” Some may dismiss this as an amusing anecdote, but I believe it represents mustard seeds of faith. Baby Jesus is someone she can relate to and love. At some level, she intuits that her godmother’s baby girl will need Emanuel, God with us, in her life, too.
Another tradition that I enjoy sharing with my grandchildren is the Advent calendar that a friend gave me years ago. It consists of an illustration of the city of Bethlehem mounted on cardboard. There are numbered flaps distributed all over the scene. Each flap reveals something about the people depicted in the scene. Some entries narrate the story leading up to Jesus’ birth: Caesar Augustus requires the Jewish people to register with officials; a bright star appears in the sky; and the angel brings glad tidings. Other entries imagine how ordinary people might respond to the arrival of the Christ Child: two children bring eggs from their chickens for Baby Jesus; a girl sews a warm blanket for him; and a child shows the Magi the way to the stable. And, they follow “with a little child to guide them” (Isa. 11: 6). Our Advent calendar is beginning to remind me of the well-loved and much worn Skin Horse in The Velveteen Rabbit (Margery Williams, 1922), since some of the flaps no longer stay down and the edges of the illustration are frayed. However, it still serves us well as a vehicle for entering into the Nativity story and considering the ways God dwells among us.
This Advent as I pray with the daily Scripture readings, I find myself reflecting on what it would be like if God sent Baby Jesus to our world today. There are so many troubled spots around the globe. Where would God send him? Perhaps, the angel Gabriel would visit a young Mexican maiden named María. Her “Sí” might occur in a small city in Sinaloa, Mexico. Maybe, José and María would find themselves living with the constant threats of gangs seeking exorbitant bribes to “protect” José’s carpentry shop and committing horrendous acts of violence in the community. Is that where María would deliver these words: “for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is God’s name” (Luke 1: 49)? In a dream, José might be instructed to make the arduous and dangerous journey through the desert with his family to ask for asylum at the U.S. border. Would Baby Jesus be born in a cage in a detention center? As I ponder this scenario, I am reminded of Jesuit John Kavanaugh’s description of the coming of the Lord as not just an individual “religious experience,” but as an event that also “transforms personal relationships” and that reaches “beyond nations out to the cosmos” (Kavanaugh, The Word Embodied, pp. 4-5).
This year, the Church follows the readings for cycle A. I always look forward to the Advent readings from Isaiah. They provide a majestic and glorious counterpoint to the simple yet profound account in Matthew of Jesus’ birth. On the first Sunday of Advent, we hear that many people will climb Zion, the Lord’s dwelling place, to be instructed in God’s ways and to “walk in the light of the Lord” (Isa. 2: 3 and 5). On the second Sunday of Advent, we are reminded that there will be “no harm or ruin” on God’s holy mountain and that “the root of Jesse will be a signal for the nations; God’s dwelling shall be glorious” (Is. 11: 9-10). These readings inspire hope, what Dominican Sister, Carla Mae Streeter calls “the ache of the human heart for God”; they remind us that “we always live in Advent…” and that our “humanness flourishes because it is in relationship with” the Holy (Carla Mae Streeter: Seasons of the Soul: An Intimate God in Liturgical Time, p. 12).
On the third Sunday in Advent, Isaiah proclaims that God’s glory will “strengthen the hands of the feeble, make firm the knees that are weak” and he encourages us to “Be strong, fear not!” (Isa. 35: 3-4). Benedictine Sister, Joan Chittister encourages us to remember that “hope is the recall of good in the past, on which we base our expectation of good in the future, however bad the present” (Chittister: Sparks for Advent Light, p. 9).
On the fourth Sunday of Advent, we will read about the birth of “Emmanuel, God is with us” (Matt. 1: 18-24). For Joan Chittister “the birth of Jesus, reminds us that every child born is another chance to save the world, to make it a better place, to bring it joy” (p. 36). Carla Mae Streeter adds that Mary’s “Yes” serves as “a mirror” for each of us “personally and for all of us communally” (p. 14). She invites us to ponder how “the Holy One is not content with one full human manifestation in history, but has arranged mystically to be revealed again and again through the likes” of each of us (p.14).
So, when I think about my granddaughter’s budding faith, I recognize that it is up to our family and to her faith community through the guidance of the Holy Spirit to help her link the nascent insights about Baby Jesus that she holds to the fact that God loved the world so much that God sent Jesus to love us and teach us to believe so that we can be with God forever (John 3:16). As the days of Advent unfold, we are all called “to be about the acknowledgment of our own failure” and “to be about reconciliation with our families… our friends,” and others we encounter in our daily life (The Word Embodied, p. 6). Similarly, we are all called to be open to ways that we can be God-bearers to the darkness in the world.
Come and be light for our eyes
Be the air we breathe,
Be the voice we speak!
Come be the song we sing,
Be the path we seek!
Lead us to justice,
light in the darkness;
Singing, proclaiming Jesus is Lord!
Teach us to speak, and
help us to listen for when your truth
And our dreams embrace!
(Text and tune by David Haas, 1985 GIA Publications, Inc.)