On Dec 1st I was blessed to lead a day of reflection for the youth ministers in the Archdiocese of Washington. Here are my reflections on 5 models of how to be an advent person that I gave durring the day.
Below is a semi-accurate transcript of the audio.
What I want to spend a little time doing is going back to that idea of being good Christmas people, but not very effective advent people. What I want to do is, I want to talk about five models of what it means to be an Advent person. The five models we’re going to start from the closest in proximity, the ones that make the most sense, the two that I think would be a little bit surprising when you think about as advent people and the characteristics that come from them.
The first and most obvious as a model is Mary. One of the things that I did in preparation for today is spend a lot of time looking at all the Advent readings and looking at the Christmas readings because there are multiple Christmas readings as you know the church has come up with four different readings for Christmas evening, Christmas day, and they tell us some really, really interesting things.
This is from Luke. This is what we’ll get this year with Mary. The angel shows up and this is all we get, the angel says, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Do not be afraid Mary for you have found favor with God.”
It’s really interesting, this is something who knows every single time that an angel shows up in the Scripture, the first thing they always say is, “Don’t be afraid.” It’s not like this naked little baby cherub that we think of an angel like this thing is showing, and they always have to say, “Be not afraid.”
“Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son, and you shall name JESUS. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of David, His father, and He will rule over the house of Jacob forever; and His Kingdom there will be no end.”
The angel says this, and Mary’s response is, wait this isn’t possible. The angel explains it again, and Mary’s response is, “Behold I’m the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to your word.”
I would imagine if I’m in a circumstance, what that response sounds like. “I have no idea what you’re saying right now, but I’m just going to say yes so that you’ll leave.”
There is not a “Yes, I’ll do this!” It’s like, “What ever the Lord says, I’m cool with that.” It’s not the super sense of – at least from the scriptural text, we don’t get that sense of conviction, because if you think about how wholly of context this experience had been. You know, a teenage girl, all of a sudden a giant angel shows up says, this is what’s happening in your life, good luck with that. That would be this really, like initially this saying yes is almost in fear.
It reminds me of years and years ago we were in the Archdiocese of Atlanta and Brad and I were doing something later in the day at a conference, and they wanted us to do a little commercial at mass to kind of say, this is what they’re going to be like, because there’s an optional time. What we did was, we like to pass gloves around people, and so we approached the deacons who was in charge of the event and said, “Would it be okay if we ask the archbishop, if he will let us pass clubs around here?” He said “Yes, but you’re the one that has to ask him.”
We went and found the archbishop, and we explained what was going on, what was going to happen and he had just had this look of confusion on his face, not really understanding what was going on.
He said, “What do I have to do?”
“You have to stand still and you have to smile.” He said, “Okay I can do that.”
Ss we walked away, I turned to Brad, said, “I don’t think the bishop understood what we just asked him to do.”
Brad said, “You going to go back and explain it to him?”
I said, “No.”
And, there’s the sense of being in this place of stepping forward. We have the sense of this fearless young woman. But, it’s interesting that when we were confronted with things that we have to make these fearless choices, oftentimes we don’t have to be fearless all the way through the entire choice.
We have to be fearless long enough to say yes, long enough to just take a small step forward, and all of a sudden, this cascade of things that are now completely outside of our control that we can’t stop– which is great because it’s going to carry along in its wake, and we got to be a part of this really amazing things.
All we need to do is we need to be fearless-er, not even necessarily fear less. But fearless enough to open ourselves to a possibility to say yes first one second. And then after that, we’re dragged along for the ride. Our sense of inadequacy and our sense of fear, our sense of worry, and our self-talk and all of that stuff get pushed behind, because it’s too late to live in that stuff because there’s enough things before us that we have to do, to respond to this call.
The first time Brad and I ever performed. It was at the adult conference in Orlando in 1996. We were two kids right out of college, had no idea what we were doing; like we said, had our little business plan before we went down there. And over Thanksgiving, hand folded all of our little brochures that we were going to hand out, stood on our booth for two days, and explained to the people what we did. We had no idea what we did and when they walked away, “I had no idea what they do,” and there was just a lot of shaking the head and muttering as folks walked off. Saturday night, there was the very first kind of coffee-house type thing that we got a chance to do 20 minutes and afterwards people were, “Oh, I get it.”
We’re sleeping on the floor of a hotel room because we couldn’t afford a hotel room; some friends from the diocese where we grew up who were gracious enough to let us stay with them. Saturday night, we’re lying on the floor on our sleeping bags, and Brad is kind of, props up and he goes, “Six months ago, God gave us this ministry, and tonight He took it back.”
Because there was the sense of whatever control we thought we had in that moment, it was now gone. Because it was this thing that was thrown out in this public place, and was just going to get swept away that we had never planned and we never dreamed, and wasn’t in our sense of this business plan that we had written.
This model of being able to say yes, and oftentimes saying yes feels so scary, this is like, “Oh my gosh you have to say yes forever”. Really saying yes is a series of yeses, and oftentimes, it’s that first one that’s the hardest and the scariest one until you walk into that sense.
This first model of Mary is this, again, I have it hyphenated on my little piece of paper as fear-less-er, because it’s not even fearless. It’s just a fearless-ish, to kind of put yourself into a place that allows you to move out into that.
The second thing that is interesting and obvious from this model is the sense of waiting. It’s not waiting for a bus to arrive, like you know right now, waiting is a completely different experience of anticipation in preparation in clearing the way. It’s not just like, I’m opening my little Advent calendar, eating a chocolate at a time waiting for the big presents of Christmas.
That’s not what that sense of waiting is, it’s the sense of anticipation, and preparation, and longing for that thing.
Anne Marie was mentioning it earlier about her father wanted to put Jesus in the manger right away. Like we know how the story is. Like, there’s not a spoiler around this one, it’s not like we show up on Christmas morning and the Gospels, like, Oh my gosh, I didn’t see that coming.
Like, we know where this is going, and creating that sense of waiting in preparation is a harder thing for us. We need to be really specific and intentional about that. In Mary we see that sense of fearlessness-er and this sense of waiting.
The second kind of obvious as we get closer to what’s going on is the wise men; in my family growing up they were called the three wise dudes. Greer is like, “Where do we put the three wise dudes?” They always lived on top of the hatch in the living room, like that was their coming in place. It was up above, so we couldn’t break them as balls were flying around, but they were still kind of visible in the room when we knew they were coming.
I think there are a couple of things that we notice really specifically for them. In the Latin, when we look at the seven deadly sins, its acedia, I don’t speak Latin. Most literally is translated, we think of it today as sloth.
But what I love is, in Dante’s Inferno when he’s dealing with that, it’s not this idea of sloth, it’s this idea of intellectually no longer trying to understand the truth. Like, it’s an intellectual laziness in approach to our faith. They were just the opposite of that.
They were constantly studying and preparing. What’s interesting is, they’re preparing for something that they don’t even specifically understand. In their investigation, what’s open up to them is not even what they’re even looking for. They’re just like, “Oh my gosh, can you believe this thing. This is so amazing, we have to travel great distance to be a part of this,” which is different for people of faith who are looking for the Messiah that come and they know the signs and they know what they’re looking for.
It’s the opposite, that their quest to understand is so big that pushes them beyond even their own expectations. Again, that’s hard for us, because we know how the story ends; it’s not a surprise to us. But, being able to put ourselves in that place of being able to do that.
The second thing that I think we can learn from them besides this quest is the sense of adoration. I mean, that’s what they do. They come and they adore. They don’t come seeking answers and they don’t come seeking wisdom, they just come and go, “Oh my gosh! This is so cool!” This is the best we can bring for this. We want you to have this, “oh my gosh! This is so cool.”
It’s interesting when I was looking up the word “adore” just in the dictionary, finding roots of words to figure out why what we do, and one of the examples was a mother looking adoringly at her child. It’s really interesting that for the first time as I read that, like for me, the sense that we go to Eucharistic adoration, it completely reframed a posture that I can take with that. Because I know what it’s like to adore a child.
Take this little thing that it’s absolutely impossible that it works. I mean, they’re just so tiny, like, has bazillion moving parts and things in the environment that are destined to make it ill, and it just works. You just see particularly with the size of the child’s eyes with the huge, huge pupils and you can’t see any of the white and how easy to just kind “Ahhh!”, and just melts into that and to have that sense. That’s what they did, is they have the sense of preparing themselves to just be in wonder and awe.
I love Iceland; I’ve been in there many times. I often describe Iceland as my spiritual homeland. I think different geography for its different spiritually. I think that southwest of the United States is a very incarnation spirituality, you know, like whenever I’m there, my head is full of dreams and ideas, and you look at even the Hopi people like all of their spirituality is about care of the earth, like it’s very grounded place. And for me, the Norse countries Iceland and Scandinavian, it’s the opposite. It’s the God as eternal.
The first time I was in Iceland, went there on a horseback riding trip. It was just for eight straight days, just heard ringing in my head, “Be still and know that I am God, Be still and know that I am God, Be still and know that I am God.”
There was place called Geyser which is where we got the word geyser; where the first discoverer of geyser by Western scientists. We were housed there for a couple of nights, and every 15 minutes, this thing went off. It was up above on this hill reflecting one night as geyser just going off, and tourists were coming and going, and at certain point just looking out at this moss-covered landscape. In my head, I just saw like it became this impressionist picture of faces, as if I was seeing all of us all at once. The sense of just being in that moment, and the sense of just being able to go “aaaah” and be present in that sense of adoration.
As we talked about earlier, it’s like this is the antithesis time of the year to be able to do that. That this is the time of the year that we just gather together and have staff parties and family parties and school this and school that, and it just gets packed tighter and tighter and it becomes harder to be present and in that. But, this model is just being able to adore, you know, not doing anything beyond that and just going…”ahhh!”
The third model is the shepherds, and it’s really interesting when looking at nativities based on size. We’re going to start with we have Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus. And then, as they get a little bigger, we’re going to stick three wise men in there; and a little bigger, maybe we’ll have a couple of animals; then, the next group of guys is showing with the shepherds.
It’s amazing how much time they get in the Gospel, like it really is. For this year we’re doing the Gospel of Luke at Christmas, and the third setting for mass, the entire second half of the Gospel is about them. For the fourth set of readings, they’re it. Like, it’s all about them on Christmas day, what they’re doing and what they show up to.
It’s interesting that basically, the angels show up and say, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news and joy. For today, in the city of David, the Savior has been born, for who is Christ the Lord.”
What they do is just go. Here’s really interesting if we think about who these people were, more than likely–and it says they’re actually living in the fields in the Scripture. More than likely, they were kids taking care of sheep or uneducated. They immediately dropped what they were doing, they showed up and they just watched. We have no scriptural reference of them saying anything, but they just showed up. It’s interesting that they have this child-like faith, leaving behind their tasks, being quiet and watching.
We were in Jacksonville, Florida and we were getting ready, we we’re doing sound checks in the parish. The woman who was helping us with sound check was the one who instructed the altar servers, and at the parish after you had the first communion, you could be altar server regardless of age. They had adult altar servers and kid altar servers and her niece were going through the first communion process. She was so excited, because it meant she had to be an altarserver. And said she was the niece of Sharon, the person who taught class. She was there early during the set up, when they were in the church to practice the thing.
She turns to Sharon, she goes, and “Would it be okay if I go ring the bells?” Sharon said, “Yeah, go ahead.” She rings the bells, and she comes back and she goes, “When we’re not here, I bet Jesus gets out of the tabernacle andHe rings the bells all the time.”
It was just like this perfect understanding in a child-like way of what that sacrament she was doing, but still has that childlike sense to it. That they were just like completely wide eyed. They dropped what they were doing, again, we have that Mary-Martha struggle and we need both in our life. But, this time of year, how literally hard it is to drop everything and to do that. That’s what they did, and you could just see them, just like, “Let’s go!” and off they went. And, the sense of just quietly observing and watching.
Mother Theresa at one point was interviewed by – I can’t remember who it was. Over the course of the interview, the interviewer said, “When you pray, what do you say?” She said, “Nothing. I just listen.” He said, “Really? What does God say?” She said, “Nothing, He just listens.”
That sense of being able to adjust, being there without having to do anything and particularly those of us who has ecclesial roles, it’s really hard to go to something that’s church related and not do something, even if it’s not our event. That we’re so used to doing stuff, that we walk in and like, the first thing I do when I’m in there, we could do the communion line so much more efficiently if we did this; like, these are the thoughts that I have. I’m this process junkie trying to make it all easier, you know, that’s just what I do.
It’s so hard for us to just go and to be present and just let it taken care of, and finding that space.
In every little Nativity you always see, you know, the animals are always closer than the shepherds themselves. Like, the animals are comfortable inside there; they oftentimes just go on and sit down next to it, and that part of that aesthetic. But, they’re always the ones on the outside, it’s kind of doing this using their crosier to prop themselves up and to see what’s in there, and just being able to have that childlike sense of approach what’s going on.
The fourth model is one that never ever, ever appears in one of these little Nativity scenes, and he was someone that I thought about, and then I went and read the scriptures and he actually gets prominence; it’s John the Baptist. That two of the four scripture Gospel readings this year is about John. The first Sunday of Advent is Jesus saying, “Hey, be ready, it’s coming.” The next two are about John; the first one is the foretelling of John–the second one–the third weekend is actually when they’re questioning him and he’s telling his own story. I think there are a couple of things that are really interesting about this.
The first is, there’s none of the verbal gymnastics in debating of Jesus talking with the Pharisees. There’s none of the you ask me a question and I’ll ask you a question, and I’m going to get to my point by doing something very creative.
He just answers questions: “Are you Elijah?” “Nope”; “Are you the Christ?” “Nope” Are you this, are you that. Who are you? This is who I am.
There’s no sense of convincing, there’s no sense—it’s just statements. It’s really interesting that I think oftentimes, when we share the faith, we do it as prosecutors where we’re trying to convince; we don’t do it as witness. And all a witness does is states what they know. This is the truth as I understand it. This is what I saw, this is what happened, and this is how I responded.
That’s it! Nothing more nothing less.
Not sense of convince. Just stating the truth as we understand it. And again, as people who part of our job is in charge in evangelization and catechesis, it’s important that we’re sharing really specific ways. But, oftentimes, we get so caught up in the sense of convince, convince, convince, numbers, almost when we start counting altar calls like it happens sometimes in other denominations. It’s not; it’s just the statement of the truth. That is what he does
The other thing that’s really fascinating about him is when he is questioned, he talks about the sense of– I’m baptizing in water and someone much greater is coming after me, and this is what He is going to do.
What’s really interesting and fascinating about this fact is understanding his role in that, he doesn’t go, this is just the baptism in water, and the baptism in the Spirit is coming; I just don’t even need to do this, because the real cool thing is coming.
That he has a really humble sense of service. Humble is not a false humility, and humble is not the opposite of braggadocios; it’s just simply doing the task in front of me that I’m called to do with compassion and love that prepares you and sets you up for something else.
I think that so often at least in the work that we do, we feel like when young people live a youth night or a work camp or an entire year that they’re going to live fully catechized. I’m not fully catechized, like I’m still learning, I’m not done. It’s unrealistic that we expect those to serve to do the same.
There’s a simple sense in John the Baptist—we see at Advent time—of simply speaking the truth and this humble sense of service. It’s not shrinking away from what we’re doing and not doing it without notice, and it’s not doing it boldly. It’s just doing it with love and compassion.
The last model and this is my favorite, is the manger itself. I was thinking about this, like the manger has the single greatest PR rep in the history of the world. It literally is a trough to feed animals. We all know the word manger, and most of us haven’t grown up on farms and don’t know this sort of things.
If you do a Google image search on manger itself, the first five pages have Mary, Jesus, and Joseph in it. You don’t actually get to a trough. What’s really interesting is, I just grab these from this room here, that all of the mangers we have are these cute little things that are infant size. This one’s even smaller than the infant and he is hanging out. That’s not what a feeding trough looks like. You know, it would be this giant gangly thing that would have all of this hanging and straw, and it would be a little bit gross. It’s really interesting that it becomes His throne.
I can remember having a conversation about adoration explaining to young people, and talking about a monstrance and what this monstrance is, and then connecting Eucharist together with the actual liturgy of Eucharist and us consuming that, and trying to connect those two things and talking about the fact that we become this monstrance that go out into the world.
This humble gross feeding trough, this is absolutely perfect throne that holds the Lord and Savior in it. It’s so easy for us to think that not being this beautiful, perfect, jeweled monstrance that carry the Eucharist out into the world. That’s what we’re called to do. Inside of this is the sense of being that place that holds it and that’s who we become, and it’s a thing; it’s not embarrassed, it’s not ashamed. It’s just really functional it does its job. We personify it like it’s holding this one day, and it’s holding something else the next day. It just does that, and then as appropriate a place is for that to be a throne; we are the same inside of that.
Those are the five models that I started to shape my Advent around, kind of moving closer to further back. It’s really interesting the sense of – we get the sense of preparing the way and almost as if we talk about that as if we are preparing the way because if we don’t do this preparation, it’s impossible for the Savior to show up.
That’s not it.
That preparation is preparing us, preparing the way. “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert; Make straight the way of the Lord.” It’s not the Lord needs that way made for Him, but we make that way straight to be open to that. That’s what this Advent time is about. It’s about peeling that back and finding that peace and that space.
I almost feel bad for people in warm climate in the Southern Hemisphere to have the Advent during the sunniest time of the year, because it’s such a still, quiet place. Today the sun rose at 7:07 and the setting 4:44, so less than 10 hours of light and day. Back when we were agrarian people living with the land, this was the time of year that we rested; we ate meaty potato soups and sat around the fire and peeled the old roots and just rested inside of that.
We now live in a time where that is so difficult, I mean, there are bazillion things. You’re all running from this to another meeting. That’s the reality of where we are inside of this time of the year, being able to take a step back and look at those models.