By Bethany Bell
“Seeing the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy!" - Matthew 2:10
When we started talking about Advent this year as a group way back in October, the Holy Spirit moved me to choose a theme for Advent that drew us out of the business of life and to the real reason for the season. I prayed daily and asked that the Scriptures be opened to me. I asked the Lord to reveal what He wanted me to say. I have to admit that I was stuck for awhile. Then I decided to look up what the readings were for this year at Christmas. Again, nothing. Then I decided to see what readings the Byzantine Catholics would read (Matthew 2:1-12) and boom! It hit me and I could feel my soul awaken. The Holy Spirit asked me to focus on joy. And not just any joy, the joy that is brought after immense preparing, waiting and longing. The joy Mary felt after she waited the long 9 months to have her infant Son - the joy the Magi felt after they found the stable where the new King laid - the joy St. Simeon felt after years and years of waiting to meet the Messiah as promised by God. This joy causes our souls to be moved, to be changed, to grow in a deeper relationship with Christ.
See I think for me and many, Advent becomes a season of doing verses a season of preparing. You may read that and think, “Well Bethany, I have to do things in order to prepare.” And while you are correct in a sense, it’s what you are doing and in the spirit you are doing it that determines if you are being prepared or just being busy. Advent is this beautiful time the Church has given us to slow down and allow our hearts and minds to be emptied. The Greek term for this is kenosis. We empty ourselves so we can be filled with the Holy Spirit. And beautifully enough this action points to the Incarnation because Christ “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:7) And since the Incarnation is what we are being prepared for throughout the four weeks of Advent, kenosis is the “doing” part. Kenosis will allow the Holy Spirit room to work wonders in our souls so on December 25th we too can rejoice with exceeding great joy!
So now comes the how. How can we empty ourselves so we can be filled? Prayer, fasting, almsgiving and love. These four ways of discipleship will help awaken and illuminate our souls. We will start Monday with prayer, add fasting the second week, almsgiving the third week and finish Advent adding in love. These four ways will build on each other and I hope by the eve of the Nativity you feel that longing for the Lord the way Mary, the Magi, and St. Simeon did.
Please join us on this journey. It will be challenging at times as any spiritual growth is, but this is a joyful time in the Church and so we look forward to these four weeks with that joy in our hearts. Remember we are preparing for the Incarnation of Christ! The Incarnation is the beginning of our salvation where Christ came not to condemn, but to set right the distorted image humanity had of the Father in their hearts. To heal the wounds that the Fall inflicted upon our nature, and all of creation, and to restore mystical union with our Creator, allowing us to once again partake of His divine nature (in Greek, theosis). To restore the harmony we possessed in Eden with God and all creation. In putting on flesh the Son of God made Himself poor that we might be made rich in His grace and glory. If this is not a cause of celebration I do not know what is! So we sing “Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia! Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to people of goodwill”.
“This is our God, who appeared on earth and lived among men.” - Baruch 3: 35, 37