I want to know what love is,” said Carmen, an attractive young woman who lives with her two children in the nearby shantytown. Her partner is in jail. She was one of five people from the shantytown who came to our parish Advent preparation workshop. Another 20 or so people had come from the housing commission flats nearby.
One of our parish priorities was to make the liturgical seasons come alive. Advent is the four week period before Christmas of preparation, waiting and longing for the coming of Christ into our world. Christ has come in the past, is coming now in the present time and will come again in the future.
We commemorate Christ’s First Advent at Christmas each year. We pray for Christ’s Advent in our lives every day. We wait in joyful anticipation for Christ’s Second Advent at the end of time.
“I long for inner peace and to be able to forgive myself,” says Esteban, a former heavy drinker who used to cheat on his wife. “I worry about my children walking past drug dealers on the way to school,” says Maria Eugenia. “How can my family escape from poverty?" added Juan Miguel.
Our deepest longings, hopes and fears were shared during a morning session. “I can really see how much we need Christ to come into the world,” reflected Jorge. All of us were conscious of the large number of assaults, thefts, murders and suicides there had been in our area in the past few months. “Look at the number of people in our area living with depression,” commented Miguel Angel. “I have been on strike for three months now,” said Jose Luis. “My husband has prostate cancer and we cannot afford the treatment that he needs,” said Gabriela.
After morning tea, we broke into four groups each with separate tasks. Later the first group presented Advent readings from the prophet Isaiah and their application to the parish.
“A people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” We had identified areas of darkness in the morning and Advent was about waiting for that great light to appear at Christmas and at the end of time.
“For a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and He shall be called Immanuel, God with us.” And from the root stock of Jesse, the father of David, "unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given. They will name him Wonder Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace.”
We prayed the great Advent prayer, “Maranatha - Come Lord Jesus”, come now to our neighbourhood full of violence, selfishness and injustices. Let “the lion lie down with the lamb, the leopard with the goat.” Let “the cow and bear be neighbours.” And “turn the swords into ploughshares,” the guns, knives and the drugs into dignified work, friendship, love, respect, community and justice and peace.
Come Lord Jesus this Christmas, we prayed, to the families in the shantytown and the blocks of flats, to the addicts in the parish Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Centre, to the lonely and abandoned aged people, to prisoners in the City Penitentiary and to all the men and women on strike at the nearby ceramic factory. Let your Kingdom come! Come save your people!
The second group presented Advent figures from the Bible such as Hebrew Prophets like Isaiah, Baruch and Micah and New Testament figures like John the Baptist, Mary, Joseph, Zechariah, Elizabeth, the Shepherds and the Magi. The parish community was being called “to prepare the way of the Lord; to make straight a highway for our God in the desert.”
In our community, God wants “to raise up the lowly and bring down the mighty; to make straight what is crooked and to make the dry places bloom with life.” We must listen to the angels calling us to leave our fields and go and adore the baby Jesus. Where is that star that bids us to leave the familiar behind and go in search of the Christ child?
The third group prayed with us some of the prayers from the Eucharistic Liturgy. “He will come to judge the living and the dead”; “Until you come again”; “As we await his coming in glory” and in summary form “Deliver us from evil, grant us peace, by the help of your mercy, may we be always free from sin and safe from all distress as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Saviour Jesus Christ.”
The fourth group had developed Jesse Trees and Advent Wreaths for use at the Sunday Liturgies and in families. Advent Calendars would be made available to all. Carols would be sung every night for the nine nights from December 16 onwards until Christmas. It would begin at the large crib with life-size figures to be built at the front gate of the parish grounds. From there the choir, singing carols, will process to a different house each night where the Novena of the Child Jesus will be prayed.
By the end of the day we realized that while God’s Kingdom had already come in Bethlehem a long time ago, it was not yet completed. So until He comes again, the parish community will continue to work hard to help establish God’s Kingdom of justice, peace and love here on Earth.
When He does come again, the Kingdom will then be established definitively. The dead will rise and everything in our lives will be brought out into the open and laid bare.
The deepest truth of our lives will become apparent. “Every tear shall be wiped away.” He will establish “a new Jerusalem,” all nations will gather on the Lord’s holy mountain to share an exquisite banquet.
“A new heaven and a new Earth” will come into being. And Carmen will finally know what love is.
Fr Dan Harding shares his experience of preparing for Advent in his former parish in Chile.