The End of Advent: From Barren to Fruitful

The following article appeared on the Catholic Exchange website, preparing readers for the Fourth (and final) Week of Advent.

This is the final reflection for our Advent retreat. It is the culmination of everything that has come before it, just as the birth of Jesus Christ is the culmination of God’s history and work among humankind. I do hope that these reflections have helped you during this season of waiting, watching, and preparing.

This week of Advent reveals that God intends to do amazing things in the world and for individuals and for His chosen people. However, the ways that He chooses to accomplish those things are far from usual or expected. So, these final days of Advent offer an opportunity for us to see reality from a new perspective, and to change the ways that we respond to God’s graces in our lives.

In the Sunday readings, and during the next six days, one specific type of miracle stands out clearly above the rest. Throughout the week, we hear four different stories of God placing life within the wombs of women who were not supposed to conceive. An angel of the Lord directed the mother of Samson to consecrate her son from the womb, so that he could save Israel.  Hannah prayed desperately for a son, and she conceived Samuel, who became a great leader and prophet. Elizabeth, barren into her old age and thought to be cursed, became the mother of John the Baptist. Finally, there is Mary, the virgin blessed to give life to the Messiah. With these miraculous pregnancies and births, God provides hope and security for His chosen people.

This message of hope is not limited to biblical history. The same story unfolds in our lives today, too. Each of us faces fear, doubt, and despair in many ways. Yet, when we feel that something is arid and barren, even when we think that there is no more hope, God is ready to work miracles to sustain and encourage us. We are simply called to remain steadfast in prayer and faith. Advent is a great time to renew a commitment to prayer so that faith can grow and flourish. Even if we haven’t entered fully into the season up to this point, God is always ready to work with us, even for a short time.

If these realities aren’t already amazing enough, there is a greater miracle to be revealed this week. God does not intend to watch us from afar, perform a few unexpected tricks, and then leave us to our own devices. No, He intends to become Emmanuel, “God with us.” By becoming one of us, God fulfills all of His previous promises, wins victories over enemies and obstacles, and establishes His royal kingdom in a way more powerful than humans ever could imagine. He teaches us that intimate, covenant relationship, rather than wealth, pleasure, power, or worldly honor, is the path to wholeness and happiness.

Advent is a great time to reflect on our relationships.  Do we have friends, family members, or co-workers who cause us to fall away from God’s ideal for us?  Do others help us to overcome obstacles and grow into the fullness of who God wants us to be?  Those who help us become truly whole are the ones who participate in the redemptive and fruitful work of Emmanuel; and they show us the way to do the same.

After we reflect on the ways that God has come into our lives and worked miracles, there is only one appropriate response: gratitude and praise.  We make this response in two amazing hymns toward the end of the week.  On December 22, with Mary, we proclaim, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord…” (Lk. 1:46), and we recount the many merciful deeds of God throughout Salvation History.  On the very last day before the Christmas celebration begins, we hear Zechariah exclaim, “Blessed be the Lord…” (Lk. 1:67).  This final reading of Advent reminds us that God’s perfect plan is fulfilled in the Christmas Event.  With the arrival of Jesus, we know that the spiritual winter is past and it is time for beautiful flowers to appear (see Song of Songs 2:11-12).  Our hearts should be full of thanks, and our lips must praise Him for His merciful presence!

God has provided many wonderful ways to express our gratitude and praise. We have liturgy and sacraments, communal prayer groups, songs, and works of mercy. Even if we are less than worthy, or if it is unexpected, each of these realities brings the presence of Jesus Christ into the barren places of our lives. If we remain faithful to Him, praying frequently, praising Him joyfully, He will make our lives fruitful.  He always fulfills His promises.

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