A reflection on the scripture readings of December 3, 2023, the First Sunday of Advent. The audio, when available, will be posted here.

The last few years have felt like a marathon. Between becoming pastor of a growing number of parishes and delicate situations with family back in India, it has felt like an unending marathon. There has been no time for vacations or the time to take a breath. Especially since last July, I have barely been able to take two or three days off. I was feeling the exhaustion. I was losing energy. I was afraid of getting burned out. For the first time in many years, I did not even host Thanksgiving. I had to do something. And I did. I requested a clearing of my calendar and took the week and weekend of Thanksgiving off. It was the best thing I did. Would I say I am totally rejuvenated? To be honest, barely. However, the time off has helped me connect with my inner self again. I slept a lot. I caught up with my John of the Cross reading. I took time to pray. I picked up my guitar again. I feel that I took a long, deep breath.

As we enter Advent, I want to use the analogy of ‘taking a long, deep breath’ to reflect on this holy season. I would like to interpret Jesus’ “Be watchful! Be alert” in today’s gospel reading (Mk 13:33) not as a warning, but as an invitation. When Jesus says to us, “Watch,” I hear him say, “Take a long, deep breath.”

The Dissonance of the Season

There are two seasons in the liturgical calendar that focus on preparation for something greater – Advent and Lent. They are very similar in their tone. Both Advent and Lent call for silence, prayer, reflection, and repentance. In the West, however, and particularly in America, Advent comes with a certain dissonance. Christmas festivities overtake Advent. Somehow, Advent becomes busier and more hectic than we would like it to be. Yet, the Scripture readings for the four Sundays of Advent call us to evaluate, to watch, to be alert, to take time, to be silent, to pray, to turn around, to begin anew.

This Advent, I invite you to be aware of this dissonance. I also invite you to find the balance. Do what you must do but do not ignore Jesus’ invitation to “Watch.” Jesus is saying to you, “Take a long, deep breath.”

To Live, Breathe

Taking a long, deep breath can mean many things. Sometimes it means taking a vacation. Sometimes it means taking time off. Often, it is a call to slow down, to reflect and pray. But sadly, sometimes it takes an illness for someone to pause. Sometimes it takes a tragedy for someone to reevaluate life. For the people of Judah in today’s first reading, it was the exile to Babylon.

During the exile, the people of Judah came to the realizations they should have come to at home in Jerusalem. Pondering by the rivers of Babylon, they said, “You, LORD, are our father, our redeemer you are named forever. Why do you let us wander, O LORD, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?” (Is 63:16b).

Every Advent is an invitation. It is an invitation to pause, to pray, to ask the right questions, to come to the right realizations, to hear God speak, to reset our lives, to “watch,” to take a long deep breath. This Advent, evaluate, take stock, take a good look at your life. Are there realizations we must come to now? Or, are there realizations we have had that we must implement in our lives? The time to respond to God’s invitation is not somewhere in the distant future. It is now. It is today. “Be watchful! Be alert! Take a long, deep breath this Advent.

Advent is a Becoming

Since the end of my week off, I find a relative calm within me. Behind this calm is a realization – contentment is not merely in what I do, but who I am. This is similar to the people of Judah. Sometime during the exile they came to a great realization. Isaiah expresses it in these words: “Yet, O LORD, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands” (Is 64:7). Finally, they came to the realization that they must be who God called them to be. Salvation depends on it.

In the most profound way, my week off allowed me to be unconditionally present to my Creator. In the most profound way, it meant being clay in the hands of the Potter. Contentment, success, happiness for me is not about doing things, but rather, becoming the person God is shaping me to be.

This Advent, take a long, deep breath. Find time to be present to your Creator, your God, your Potter. Allow God to shape you! For you and for me, there is a Christmas waiting to happen. But you must decide to take a long, deep breath.

Image: Adobe Stock. By Meeko Media

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Fr. Satish Joseph was ordained in India in 1994 and incardinated into the archdiocese of Cincinnati in 2008. He has a Masters in Communication and Doctorate in Theology from the University of Dayton. He is presently Pastor at Immaculate Conception and St. Helen parishes in Dayton, OH. He is also the founder Ite Missa Est ministries (www.itemissaest.org) and uses social media extensively for evangelization. He is also the founder of MercyPets (www.mercypets.org) — a charitable fund that invites pet-owners to donate a percent of their pet expenses to alleviate child hunger. MercyPets is active in four countries since its founding in December 2017. Apart from serving at the two parishes, he facilitates retreats, seminars and parish missions.

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