8 Dec – 2nd Sunday of Advent
The OXYGEN team would like to invite interested writers to contribute a reflection or two for the Christmas mass readings at the end of this year. If you feel called to put the sharing of your faith into writing, please do drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to hearing from you!
The OXYGEN team
A shoot springs from the stock of Jesse,
a scion thrusts from his roots:
on him the spirit of the Lord rests,
a spirit of wisdom and insight,
a spirit of counsel and power,
a spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.
(The fear of the Lord is his breath.)
He does not judge by appearances,
he gives no verdict on hearsay,
but judges the wretched with integrity,
and with equity gives a verdict for the poor of the land.
His word is a rod that strikes the ruthless,
his sentences bring death to the wicked.
Integrity is the loincloth round his waist,
faithfulness the belt about his hips.
The wolf lives with the lamb,
the panther lies down with the kid,
calf and lion feed together,
with a little boy to lead them.
The cow and the bear make friends,
their young lie down together.
The lion eats straw like the ox.
The infant plays over the cobra’s hole;
into the viper’s lair
the young child puts his hand.
They do no hurt, no harm,
on all my holy mountain,
for the country is filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters swell the sea.
That day, the root of Jesse
shall stand as a signal to the peoples.
It will be sought out by the nations
and its home will be glorious.
Everything that was written long ago in the scriptures was meant to teach us something about hope from the examples scripture gives of how people who did not give up were helped by God. And may he who helps us when we refuse to give up, help you all to be tolerant with each other, following the example of Christ Jesus, so that united in mind and voice you may give glory to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It can only be to God’s glory, then, for you to treat each other in the same friendly way as Christ treated you. The reason Christ became the servant of circumcised Jews was not only so that God could faithfully carry out the promises made to the patriarchs, it was also to get the pagans to give glory to God for his mercy, as scripture says in one place: For this I shall praise you among the pagans and sing to your name.
In due course John the Baptist appeared; he preached in the wilderness of Judaea and this was his message: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.’ This was the man the prophet Isaiah spoke of when he said:
A voice cries in the wilderness:
Prepare a way for the Lord,
make his paths straight.
This man John wore a garment made of camel-hair with a leather belt round his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judaea and the whole Jordan district made their way to him, and as they were baptised by him in the river Jordan they confessed their sins. But when he saw a number of Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism he said to them, ‘Brood of vipers, who warned you to fly from the retribution that is coming? But if you are repentant, produce the appropriate fruit, and do not presume to tell yourselves, “We have Abraham for our father,” because, I tell you, God can raise children for Abraham from these stones. Even now the axe is laid to the roots of the trees, so that any tree which fails to produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown on the fire. I baptise you in water for repentance, but the one who follows me is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to carry his sandals; he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fan is in his hand; he will clear his threshing-floor and gather his wheat into the barn; but the chaff he will burn in a fire that will never go out.’
Because, I tell you, God can raise children for Abraham from these stones.
Advent is a season of preparation for the Lord’s coming. It is derived from the Latin word, adventus, meaning “coming”. In order for us to really prepare the way for Christ, we need first acknowledge that we are looking forward to His coming. But this also implies our attitude of “waiting”.
But I’m terrible at waiting. It takes a tremendous amount of concentration and energy to still myself and adopt the posture of being in wait. Almost a month ago, my close friend and I wrapped up our 40-day daily retreat journey. I embarked on this 40-days of prayer, fasting, and daily Mass, when I found myself growing increasingly restless and fidgety over things I had long been praying about. It was both a willed decision to be disciplined in faith, and a cry to God for the grace to endure my unanswered questions. Though I wasn’t always successful at keeping up with our 40-day routine, it was only several days after its closure that the lessons dawned on me. While I sought perfection in my ability “to wait”, and realised I often fell short, the Holy Spirit was simply teaching me to “let go, and breathe”.
Breathing is the only way to enduring wait. When I wait, I tend to hold my breath. While it’s a common expression “to wait with bated breath” in excitement and anticipation, it is absolutely unsustainable for the long haul. With bated breath, I often found myself gasping and writhing with impatience. This is especially so when it pertains to the desires for the people I love and my own. Those items on my enduring “wish list” seem to take forever to be answered… Decades-long prayers for my father and brother to accept Christ… prayer for a Christ-loving partner through life… questions on my life’s direction and vocation… When I start to gasp, instead of breathe through my prayers, I begin to doubt that anything good is going to come my way at all. I am completely unable to enter the humble posture of waiting for what has become inconceivable. I struggle and begin to shadowbox with God.
Yet, the readings today are filled with incredible visions:
“The infant plays over the cobra’s hole;
into the viper’s lair
the young child puts his hand.
They do no hurt, no harm,
on all my holy mountain…” (Isaiah 11:8-9)
“God can raise children for Abraham from these stones” (Matthew 3:9)
St Paul too, tells the Romans that, “Everything that was written long ago in the scriptures was meant to teach us something about hope from the examples scripture gives of how people who did not give up were helped by God” (Romans 15:4). Each of the visions from Isaiah was incredulous to its audience then (and it still is!), while we know Abraham and Sarah’s shared longing for a son from their long-barren bodies was miraculously answered when Isaac was born! It is the promise of answers to come that prepares the human heart to gestate in hopeful wait.
Yet, all of these promises cannot be willed into existence by human desire or power – instead it can only be graciously breathed into being by God. Even my desire to attain perfection in waiting was itself a paradox. The more I wanted to experience a waiting season that was smooth, unruffled, and bearable, the more I did not like my natural response of restlessness and resistance. The more I prayed against my impatience, the nastier I felt my struggle become. To continue breathing, was to trust God completely, and persist in living out my daily portion.
Then one morning, I found myself smiling contentedly just from watching little mynahs hop about alongside my path to work – quite unconsciously I had lived through some days of peaceful breathing and a less-furrowed brow. I was reminded that to wait with God is to continue deeply breathing in every present moment, to see His tenderness for me in little gestures, and to delight in His silence. To really prepare the way for Christ is simply, to let each day’s living be a little prayer of joy and surrender. And this cycle continues… It will not always be easy, but with the grace of God.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)
Thanksgiving: I thank you God for this Advent season, in which I am reminded to still my heart and soul, in preparation to receive the birth of Jesus and Your promises.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, we long for the answers to our heart’s desires. Sustain and humble us in our wait, as we journey on through Advent.