Advent Devotionals – Week One
Advent is about anticipation. As a young child might anxiously await the riches of opening presents on Christmas morning, so the Church awaits the coming of the Lord, which it understands to be the riches of God’s grace breaking forth into human history to save us. Each year, in the prayers, Scripture readings, and liturgy of Advent, the Church invites all of us to wait patiently and journey faithfully together through dark and uncertain times toward the light and fulfillment of Christmas day. In this spirit, I invite you to journey with the Church through the season of Advent, by way of this series of daily reflections and Scripture readings. Much like the Christmas message itself, these reflections are intended to offer meaning and encouragement, glad tidings, for all people, Christians, non-Christians, religious, and non-religious persons alike. I hope you will join us!
Sunday, November 29thClick Here to Expand
Scripture Readings: Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; Isaiah 64:2-7; Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37. (https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/112920.cfm)
Reflection: Oddly enough, the Church’s Scripture readings begin Advent with almost no mention of Christmas. The readings for the first day of Advent, which is the first day of the Church year, are all about the end of the world, specifically about Christ’s second coming, rather than Christ’s first coming as a child born in Bethlehem. In so doing, the Church reminds us that the celebration of Christmas is not merely a memorial of some past event. Rather, Advent teaches us to spiritually inhabit a state of perpetual active anticipation; it teaches us to be people who constantly look to God in faith and hope. Christians seek to serve a God who has come in the past, will come again in the future, is always with us, and yet is still always coming to us in new ways. The readings today, thus, advise us to “watch!” and to “be alert!” for we never know when or how we might encounter God’s advent, God revelation, God’s unexpected presence, or God breaking in to our lives to save us. How can you look for God today? How might we begin to recognize and be on the lookout for God’s work in our world, and in our daily lives?
Monday, November 30thClick Here to Expand
Scripture Readings: Romans 10:9-18; Psalm 19:8-11; Matthew 4:18-22. (https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/113020.cfm)
Reflection: Continuing the theme from yesterday of God coming to us, often in very unexpected ways, today’s Gospel reading recounts the story of Christ calling the Apostles. Christ calls Peter, Andrew, James, and John to come and follow him. The text is quite vague about the details of Christ’s call. From the looks of it, Jesus just walks up to perfect strangers, says three words (“Come, follow me”), and people actually do it. Crazier still is that these people do not only go and listen to what Jesus has to say. Instead, they immediately drop everything they are doing, quit their jobs, abandon their families, give up their possessions, and follow a random guy around the desert for the rest of their lives without so much as even packing a toothbrush.
The text tells us that James and John were fishing when Jesus called them, and their response was to immediately leave their boat and their nets, the source of their whole family’s livelihood, just lying where they were. Imagine a farmer, construction worker, plumber, electrician, etc. today walking away from a work van filled with tools, worth over $100,000, in order to follow a homeless guy who had only said three words to them. It would have been just as insane a thing to do then as now.
What would it take for you to do something like this? What kind of interaction would you need to have with another person before you would be willing to give up everything for them? The Church today invites us to an encounter with no less than the same person whose very words and whose mere presence could yield such unbelievable results. Is this encounter any different than the one experienced by the Apostles? Do you think Christ’s call to us today is any different than it was to the Apostles? Should our response be any different?
Tuesday, December 1stClick Here to Expand
Scripture Readings: Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17; Luke 10:21-24. (https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/120120.cfm)
Reflection: Today’s reading from Isaiah gives voice to what exactly it is that Christians are hoping for and are anticipating during the season of Advent. The text speaks of the emergence of a leader, or perhaps a savior, who will be just, fair, godly, and wise. The text goes on to articulate a vision of complete social justice. Isaiah dreams of a society where all people are treated fairly, where no one is oppressed or taken advantage of, where poverty does not exist, where the wicked, rather than getting ahead, get what they deserve, and where there will be such a deep and penetrating peace that wolves will lie down with lambs while children play in complete safety beside venomous snakes. Jesus, in the New Testament, asks us to await something similar, something that in fact has already begun, with Christ’s very presence, within us and in our midst (Luke 17:21). Jesus calls what we all hope for the Kingdom of God.
The Kingdom of God contrasts especially starkly with our recent experiences. We have just been through an incredibly divisive presidential election. We have witnessed widespread protests and social unrest. Many today no longer know “their left hands from their right hands” (Jonah 4:11), or the difference between real and fake news. More than ever, therefore, we have a dire need to hear the good news promised by Isaiah and Christ. We need to be able to hope for righteous, moral, and wise leaders. We need to know that peace is possible. We need to see that a fair society that works for everyone is not only possible, but is promised to us. In short, we need to regain a vision of the Kingdom of God and to reorient ourselves toward what God wants to accomplish among us. Can you today envision this kind of future? Can you begin to hope for and anxiously anticipate justice, happiness, or even just normalcy? God promises this kind of world is coming. What can we do to hasten its arrival?
Wednesday, December 2ndClick Here to Expand
Scripture Readings: Isaiah 25:6-10a; Psalm 23:1-6; Matthew 15:29-37. (https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/120220.cfm)
Reflection: Today’s Gospel reading, from the book of Matthew, recounts the story of Jesus feeding the 4000. The Old Testament and Psalm reading situate Jesus’s miracle in the context of fulfilled promises. Isaiah looks forward to a great feast to be celebrated when God establishes the kingdom of justice and peace. There will be “a feast of rich food and choice wines,” and at that time, God will “wipe away the tears from all faces” and will “destroy death forever” (Isaiah 25:6). Similarly, the Psalmist declares that God’s work is to set a table beside still waters, anoint people’s head with oil, and provide cups that overflow with abundance.
Christ’s feeding of the 4000 fulfills these Old Testament hopes. Jesus, in the midst of a deserted place is moved with loving compassion for the great hungry crowd who follow him. His response is to provide the starving masses with such an abundant feast that there were seven baskets of food left after everyone had their fill. What are some of the ways that God has fulfilled promises to us? How does the Christmas season fulfill God’s promises and the hopes of Advent? How has God provided for us in our own lives? Have we been blessed not with mere sustenance, but with abundance? Are we, like the 4000 followers of Christ, sharing God’s abundance to the point that “all [are able to eat] and be satisfied” (Matthew 15:37)?
Thursday, December 3rdClick Here to Expand
Scripture Readings: Isaiah 26:1-6; Psalm 118:1, 8-9, 19-21, 25-27a; Matthew 7:21, 24-27. (https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/120320.cfm)
Reflection: Christ’s words in the gospel reading today should worry us all. Jesus states, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in Heaven.” Jesus thus teaches, when it comes to being a part of the Kingdom we await during Advent, that: Believing the right things is not enough. Thinking that you are a good person is not enough. Being a law-abiding, upstanding citizen is not enough. Claiming that you are a Christian is not enough. Going to church every week is not enough. Trying your best is not enough. No. The only standard is whether we do the will of God, which, as Christ explains in this passage means that we must “listen to his words and act on them” (Matthew 7:24). How good of a job are we doing to meet this standard? Do you feel today that you know what God’s will is for you? Do you know Christ’s teachings and commandments? Are you acting on Christ’s words? Are you fully doing “the will of [our] Father in Heaven?” What specific ways can you follow God’s will today?
Friday, December 4thClick Here to Expand
Scripture Readings: Isaiah 29:17-24; Psalm 27:1, 4, 13-14; Matthew 9:27-31. (https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/120420.cfm)
Reflection: Today’s reading from Isaiah finds the prophet, once again, envisioning the future which God has promised. When everyone does God’s will and the Kingdom of God is fully realized, “the tyrant will be no more,” “the arrogant will have gone,” and “all who are alert to do evil will be cut off” (Isaiah 29:20). “On that day,” Isaiah tells us, “the deaf shall hear,” “the eyes of the blind shall see,” “the lowly will ever find joy in the Lord,” and “the poor will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.” The New Testament reading finds Jesus fulfilling God’s long anticipated promises. Jesus cures two men’s blindness by touching their eyes.
Are there ways in which we, our world, or our society, are blind and in need of Christ’s healing touch? What kinds of things in our lives do we fail to see? Are there people we have overlooked? Are there unmet needs of our community or our coworkers that we have failed to recognize? What, or who, have we been too busy or too distracted to see? Are there evils or injustices to which we have turned a blind eye? Do we recognize our own failings, faults, and complicity in evil? Can we see God’s presence and activity in the world? Can we see the good in others, even our enemies? How might Christ heal us and enable us to see the unseen?