Advent: Journeying with Mary and Joseph Today

Mary and Joseph

What is it?

Advent marks the beginning of the liturgical year for Christians. It is a season of hope, preparation, expectation, and celebration — not just for Jesus’ anniversary of birth but also as a reminder of our redemption and of his promised second coming.

When does it start?

Each year, the first Sunday of Advent is set as the Sunday closest to the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle, which is on November 30th.

How do I do it?

One way to observe this season is through prayer. Each Sunday of Advent has a set schedule of scripture readings. Read and reflect on the scripture passages for the Sunday. Two questions you might ask yourself are: What captures my attention? How am I called to respond? You may also choose to write down your thoughts and feelings on the verses in a special notebook.

Advent Reflections

On November 30, 2013, Faith Connections and Scarboro Missions hosted an Advent retreat for young adults entitled "Journeying with Mary and Joseph Today" — here we share two reflections presented at the retreat.

Advent and Mission — a reflection by Fr. Ron MacDonell, SFM

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.Isaiah 7:10–14

The word “mission” comes from the Latin verb mittere, meaning “to be sent.” To have a mission, then, means to be sent to say or do something. Throughout the history of the Hebrew people, God sent prophets, like Isaiah, to speak on his behalf. Through Isaiah, God promised the people that a child would be born to them, God’s own son, Immanuel, “God is with us.” It is through Mary that the son Jesus is born, centuries later. Mary received the mission to be the mother of God. Joseph received the mission to marry Mary and protect the mother and child. Jesus, the Son of God, was asked by God the Father to announce the Good News of the kingdom of justice and peace, and eventually to suffer death in order to pass into the new life of Resurrection which is offered to humanity.

All of us, too, are called to a mission in life. Mons. Fraser was impelled by the Holy Spirit to found the Scarboro Missions in 1918, to help the poor of China. Many others, priests and lay people, answered the call to go overseas on mission. We now realize that mission is also here in Canada, particularly in reaching out to people in parish communities and in creating interfaith dialogue in our multicultural Canadian society. Pope Francis, in his letter for World Mission Sunday, says that the “...Missionary spirit is not only about geographical territories, but about peoples, cultures and individuals, because the “boundaries” of faith do not only cross places and human traditions, but the heart of each man and each woman.”

What is happening in your heart today? Do you feel called to a mission? This Advent retreat is a time to consider where God may be calling you in your life. It is a time for prayer, for listening, for discernment. God will speak to us through the words of his son Jesus, and through the stirrings of our hearts. Let us be attentive to God’s voice.

Imagine you are conversing with Mary as she awaits the birth of her son. What does she say to you about what she is feeling?

What is God say in the depths of your heart? Do you have a sense of where you are being called in your life at the moment?

How will you prepare during Advent for the birth of Jesus at Christmas? Is there some concrete gesture you would like to commit yourself to? For example, you could spend 10 minutes in quiet prayer in the morning, before you begin the day’s activities. Or perhaps you could become more aware of the situation of refugees in the world.

Creation Care — a reflection by Norman Lévesque

Top 10 Quotes on Ecology in the Bible

  • “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” — Genesis 2:15
  • God said to Noah: “Two of every kind of creature will come to you to be kept alive.” — Genesis 6:20
  • “How many are your works, LORD! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.” — Psalm 104:24
  • Jesus said to them: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” — Mark 16:15
  • “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” — Matthew 6:26
  • Jesus said: “No one can serve two masters…You cannot serve both God and money.” — Luke 16:13
  • “Ever since God created the world, his invisible qualities…have been clearly seen; they are perceived in the things that God has made.” — Romans 1:20
  • “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” — Romans 8:22
  • “For in [Christ] all things were created: things in heaven and on earth.” — Colossians 1:16
  • “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth.” — Revelation 21:1

Advent is a time pilgrimage towards the one we love, Jesus Christ. It is not a passive waiting, but rather an active preparation for someone who is coming soon. Many Christians listen actively to the liturgy during Advent in order to better prepare. And what if we found prayers about Creation? Would it help us become better stewards of God’s Creation? As Jesus was born in a time of crisis for the Jewish people, could Jesus’ birth today help us respond to the environmental crisis?

This presentation will show how a few liturgical prayers we hear regularly in the Catholic Mass can actually open our hearts to the world around us. We become more aware of the food we present to God on the altar, and the creatures that sing to their Creator. This Holy Communion makes us better to heal the wounds in a broken world, and that includes caring for God’s Creation. Norman will also share about his own journey as a Christian, in the examples of Francis of Assisi, Mary and Joseph.

Do I pray enough? Do I recycle enough? Can I do both at the same time?

Do I give alms? Do I buy wisely (fair trade, local, organic)? Are they related?

Do I fast? Have I tried fasting from technology, electricity, gasoline? What if I did?

Reflection for the First Week of Advent

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her. — Luke 1:26-38

Mary and Joseph were both asked by God to say “yes” to what was asked of them. Each received a mission from God. Both responded “yes” and so, God’s son Jesus was born into the world. Let us explore how Mary and Joseph journeyed to say “yes” to God.

What is God asking of Mary? How does she feel about it? What convinced Mary to say “yes”?

Has God asked you to say “yes” to something? How did you feel about it?

Reflection for the Second Week of Advent

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel’, which means, ‘God is with us.’ When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus. — Matthew 1:18-25

What was going through Joseph’s heart? What convinced Joseph to say “yes”?

Have you ever felt the same about something in your life? How do you experience Emmanuel, “God with us”?

Reflection for the Third Week of Advent

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’ And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’ — Like 1:39-55

This is Mary’s song of praise and rejoicing in God’s wondrous action. The words she speaks tell of her son Jesus’ mission to save humanity and all of creation.

What motives do you have to give thanks to God at this moment in your life, as you journey towards Christmas?

Reflection for the Fourth Week of Advent

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’ When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’ Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. — Luke 2:1-16

Jesus is born. How does Mary feel gazing upon her new-born son? How does Joseph looking at his family? How do you feel about Jesus born into our humanity?

The shepherds, the poorest of the poor, were the first to hear the good news about Jesus’ birth. What does this tell us about Jesus’ mission and our mission as his disciples?

How are you called to say “yes” to God as we enter a new year?

For more information about Advent

Advent Symbolism & Prayers (Archdiocese of Toronto):

Definition of Advent at the Catholic Encyclopedia: