Hillary Ibarra reflects on the beauty, peace, and joy to be found in our liturgical year.
And this is what he [John] proclaimed: One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." (Mark 1:7-8)
The four candles, three purple and one rose, have been lit on the huge, beautiful wreath in our parishes for weeks, one by one. The waiting is almost over.
Like Elizabeth exclaiming to Mary, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb,” after John the Baptist leaped for joy in her womb …
Like Mary saying, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior,” after Elizabeth’s greeting in the Holy Spirit …
Like Zechariah prophesying, his tongue loosed, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has visited and brought redemption to his people,” at the birth of John …
Like the angel announcing, “Behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all people,” to shepherds keeping watch over their flock at night …
… the time for rejoicing at the birth of our Savior is nearly upon us.
I love Christmas, and I cherish Advent, our time of reflection and preparation for the celebration of Christ’s birth more than 2000 years ago and for His second coming. Instead of hustle and bustle through malls or hours spent online shopping, guided by lists and our pocketbook, Advent is about contemplation, generosity, humility, and watchfulness in our lives, guided by Scripture and prayer.
When I was young, my dad and mom made Jesus central in our home, but for most of my life Christmas was a day that showed up on the 25th of December. What came before was a lot of wishing and hoping and scrambling. The weeks leading up to it were a season of hoping for gifts, cleaning house, decorating, preparing food, hosting friends, reading Scripture, and my father playing carols on his guitar, singing in his clear tenor while my mother harmonized.
Though my parents kept Christmas well, I did not know the Christmas season continued through the celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany commemorating the Three Wise Men, representative of all gentiles, bringing gifts to the Prophet, Priest and King who was born in a stable and laid in a manger. I did not realize that the Christmas season ended after the celebration of the Baptism of Jesus on a January Sunday. I wasn't Catholic, so I did not grasp the depth of spiritual variety found in a year, the joy to be found in Christmas and Easter, until I understood the times of preparation in the Catholic liturgical calendar. As I contemplated that calendar after my marriage to a Catholic and my own confirmation, I grasped a deeper connection between the Old and the New Testament.
God told the Israelites to observe certain fasts and feasts every year. Passover was to be... “a day of remembrance for you, which your future generations will celebrate with pilgrimage to the Lord; you will celebrate it as a statute forever.” (Exodus 12:14) God also commanded, “Three times a year you shall celebrate a pilgrim feast to me.” (Exodus 23:14) Often the Israelites were to abstain from leavened bread and make designated offerings to God.
As Christians our seasons of fasting and feasting remind us, too, of important events in salvation history and of our commitment to our spiritual journeys, calling us to remain awake and watchful as we journey with Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem during Advent and walk and fast with Christ in the desert during Lent in preparation for rejoicing at Christmas and Easter -- a prefigurement of our exultation in heaven. Penitential seasons prepare us to recognize and celebrate the bountiful blessings and grace we receive from our Maker in every season of our lives.
Our liturgical year began the first Sunday of Advent, and again we prepared ourselves for Christ. Not by making lists and checking them twice, not by cooking mounds of cookies, and not by worrying about whether we're spending enough or too much on gifts. Instead, we prepared ourselves by praying, giving alms, participating in Mass, and lighting the Advent wreath to remind us of the dawning of the Light of the World. We hopefully pondered how we can reflect more of the Light as we sang:
O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Shall come to you,
At Christmas we joyfully thank God anew for Emmanuel, and we know that no matter what 2021 brings, Our Lord Jesus will be with us throughout the liturgical year.
Copyright 2020 Hillary Ibarra
Image: Pixabay (2010)
About the Author
Hillary Ibarra is a happy wife and mother of four. She is the author of The Christmas List, based on the miracle of one childhood Christmas Eve, and is a freelance humor writer and copywriter. Jesus, her family, playing guitar, admiring trees, and baking bring her joy. You can learn more about her on HillaryIbarra.com and at Faith and Humor by Hillary Ibarra on Facebook.