Advent is the liturgical season during which we await the Second Coming of Christ in glory. We also wait, pray, and listen for the coming of Jesus at Christmas.
In John 1:14 it says, “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” Since human life begins at conception, the Word became flesh when Mary conceived Christ through the Holy Spirit. Nine months later, she gave birth to Jesus. St. John of the Cross said, “In giving us his Son, his only Word, the Father spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word — and he has no more to say.”
A special mother
In order for God’s Word to become flesh, Jesus needed a special mother who would give him a human nature. From all women, God chose Mary. She was free from original sin from the moment of her conception. William Wordsworth called sinless Mary “our tainted nature’s solitary boast.”
It was the dream of Jewish girls to be the messiah’s mother. Fr. Kevin O’Shea, a Marian expert, said that Mary was so in love with God that she conceived Jesus in her heart before she conceived him in her womb. Consequently, when God sent the angel Gabriel to ask Mary to be Jesus’ mother, she listened and responded, “May it be done to me according to your word.”
Listening to God’s Word
More than anyone else, Mary heard the Word of God and responded to it by doing God’s will. Advent invites us to listen to God’s Word as did Mary. She is the model of Advent listening.
In Romans 10:17, St Paul writes, “Thus faith comes from what is heard and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.” Our lives should be shaped by God’s Word, Jesus. Jesus became like us in all but sin so we could become more like him.
When the Word of God is proclaimed at Mass, God not only speaks to those who lived 2000 years ago, but also to us. God speaks today through Scripture, preaching, and the cries of our brothers and sisters in need. But we must listen.
The art of listening
Good listening is a sacred art of respect and love. A little girl wanted to tell her busy dad something important that happened to her at school that day. She began hurriedly, “Daddy, I wanna tell you somethin’ and I’ll tell you really fast.”
Sensing her frustration at his perpetual busyness, her dad answered, “Honey, you can tell me — and you don’t have to tell me really fast. Say it slowly.”
The daughter responded, “Well, then, daddy, please listen slowly.’”
To listen slowly, like Mary, we must so respect the person who speaks that we set aside everything else and focus solely on what he or she says. No one deserves respect more than Jesus, our Savior, who speaks through his Word and offers us Heaven.
Preparing for Mass
We can prepare for Mass during the week by praying, pondering the Scripture readings, and seeking ways to follow them. At Mass we should remind ourselves that we are in God’s presence, participate and listen fully, consciously, and actively.
A good homily is a word we need to hear to help us grow in God’s image. We listen to God’s Word to allow our life to be shaped by Jesus. When we listen slowly, we spiritually join Christ on the cross for the salvation of the world.
Active listening to Sunday homilies requires concentration; yet, it consumes surprisingly little time. According to Fr. John Burke of The Word of God Institute, if the homilist preaches a 10-minute homily on 48 Sundays each year, the listener would hear only eight hours of Eucharistic preaching in one year.
Father Burke suggests that we compare this amount of time with the time that many spend watching TV or engaging in other activities.
Responding with faith
Advent is a graced season to join Mary in listening and responding with faith to God’s Word. We can offer God the broken pieces of our life. The Holy Spirit will help us to use them to build a crib in our heart to receive Jesus at Christmas.
The Advent season invites to listen to God’s Word slowly like the little girl. Like Mary we can also listen to Christ speak through our Advent hopes, crosses. and joys. Christ, God’s Word, offers us Heaven’s eternal gift of joy.
Fr. Don Lange is a pastor emeritus in the Diocese of Madison.