Editor’s note: This Advent reflection is also available in Spanish.
By Genevieve Mougey
“The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom. They will bloom with abundant flowers and rejoice with joyful song.” -Isaiah 35:1-6, 10
My childhood home featured a small plaque in a hallway leading to upstairs bedrooms. I would pass this plaque numerous times each day. “Bloom where you are planted,” it read. Over the years, my reflection on that statement continues to transform and take on new meaning.
Interestingly, I find myself returning to that phrase most often during Advent. Sometimes it comes up in conversation; sometimes I see that phrase repeated on other plaques. It does not go unnoticed. I sit with these words during the darkest season of the year.
These are the shortest days in our calendar year and our sacred readings feature a deep sense of anticipation, darkness, and stillness. There is yearning and a call for growth.
During the season of Advent we have the opportunity to reflect with pensive anticipation. As a collective church, in the coming days we will celebrate the arrival of the Christ child. Yet, even in these days of expectation, it can be difficult to find solace. We may encounter deep griefs. These deep griefs may cause the very plants that we want to nurture during this season of stillness, to wither because of inattention. We may lack food or shelter. We may have poor access to medical care. We may face systems of racism or institutional injustice. Others may deny our right to human dignity.
So, what does this have to do with JOY? How can we find JOY in stark grief and darkness?
In our Old Testament reading from the Sunday lectionary, Isaiah 35, we are called to remember the liberation of the Israelites. We celebrate their freedom, comfort, and hope. But we also know that their liberation came at great cost and grief. JOY embraces happiness and grief. They are walking partners. That is the purpose and point of Gaudete Sunday: looking for and celebrating JOY amid grief.
We read in scripture, “The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom. They will bloom with abundant flowers and rejoice with joyful song.” These words encourage us to think differently about what it means to stay in the stillness of growth. We are invited to see JOY as beauty, transition, and slow change.
JOY that is unhurried and hard to grasp—let alone see—sometimes provides the best way to encounter the Holy Spirit in conversation with our humanity. It is in our humanity that we are comforted and encouraged by the words of the prophet. We will be rejoicing and blooming in God’s time.
We celebrate in JOY today. We have been doing so for the past two weeks—looking and building anticipation in the work of finding the Christ child. God has invited us to step into our hearts and to bloom where we have been planted.
We have been asked to bloom into the JOY of the season of Advent.
God of Joy,
You know the pain of waiting; you know we are your impatient people.
Be with us in our growing, in our questions, in our longings.
We have been planted in anticipation of your coming.
Encourage our hearts to set aside our wants; Use us to bloom into a vision of love for each other.
Let us embrace the searching of your presence, your warmth, the salvation that you offer each of us.
Move our hearts so that we may embrace the needs and struggles each of us face and encounter.
Genevieve Mougey is senior national associate for Roman Catholic engagement at Bread for the World.