The Armor of Light
by Rev. Jack Peterson
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Matthew wrote to show that Christ
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
Jesus said to his disciples: "As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. In those days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark. They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away. So will it be also at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left. Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come."
Advent is a wonderful, grace-filled season for followers of Christ. I can think of a dozen reasons for saying so, but for this reflection, allow me to focus on three.
First, let's turn to the enduring image of light. One brutal element of winter is the reality of short days and long nights. I greatly dislike the fact that the sun sets around 5 p.m. at this time of the year in Virginia. It is dark when most people head home from work. Children are limited in the time after school that they can play outside. The extended darkness combined with the cold seems to draw the energy out of you, particularly in the evenings.
Advent addresses the cloud of darkness that hangs over us by proclaiming the reality that Jesus Christ is the light of the world. A powerful, reinforcing line from the hymn of Zechariah that many folks pray each morning during the Liturgy of the Hours states: "In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us." Jesus comes to dispel the darkness of this world and fill it with His light.
During the great season, the church makes use of the Advent wreath, lighting an additional candle during each of the four weeks of Advent. We use these wreaths in many other settings as well, including our homes, schools and offices. Additional lights and candles are also common in nearly every form of decoration connected with Advent and Christmas. Every image of the Nativity scene has a warm glow emanating from the face of the Infant Savior. The prevalent use of light in Advent proclaims our belief that Jesus is the everlasting light. He is the rising Sun that never sets.
Jesus enlightens our existence by revealing to us the face of our Heavenly Father and bearing witness to the truth. Additionally, Jesus bestows upon us the warmth of God's love and merciful embrace. Additionally, the very existence of Christ in our hearts and lives brings energy and motivation to love sacrificially and builds up the kingdom of God on this earth.
A second reason that Advent is so wonderful is that it commences the church's new liturgical year. It is New Year's Day in the church's liturgical calendar. Beginnings are always exciting, in part because they are a chance to start anew.
Jesus greatly desires to give us newness of life. We all need to be made anew. It begins, of course, with His merciful love. God's mercy is so fantastic not just because it is bottomless, unearned and lovingly bestowed, but because it is healing and renewing. God's mercy wipes away our sins, but it also transforms us into a brand new creation. We are given the chance to start all over again. This is an enormous grace. Just think of St. Peter (the "Rock" who denied Jesus), St. Matthew (the tax collector), and the woman who barges into the Pharisee's house (known in town as a sinner).
St. Paul, in our second reading for today, connects the Advent themes of light and newness of life: "the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light." St. Paul directly connects the "darkness" with our ugly sins. Our sins cause a cloud that hands over us and drags us down in powerful ways. Christ, our light and our Savior, dispels the darkness of sin. St. Paul reminds us that Advent is also a time or repentance and conversion of heart.
A third reason why Advent is a season of grace is that it is a time of preparation. In today's Gospel, Jesus says to us, "you also must be prepared." There are many blessings that come with our efforts to prepared of important events. Just ponder all of the effort and graces that flow from preparing for graduation from college, receiving the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of confirmation, and gathering the extended family for morn and dad's 50th wedding anniversary. These preparations require effort. The prophet Isaiah uses the language of climbing a mountain: "Come, let us climb the Lord's mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths."
In Advent, we prepare for our Christian celebration of the coming of Christ into our world. The church, in fact, invites us to ponder three distinct "comings" of Christ: His birth as a child in a stable, His return at the end of the ages as King and Judge of heaven and earth, and His coming into our hearts as men and women of faith. We look backward with faith, enormous gratitude and abundant grace for each of us and all who are dear to us. May it be a season of light, new life and grace-filled preparation.
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