Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel!
O Wisdom…teach us your ways
As we enter this last week of preparation for Christmas, the Advent hymn “O come, O come, Emmanuel” provides a great way for us to focus our hearts on the coming of God among all people. Each of the verses of “O come, O come, Emmanuel” echoes one of the early Christian “O” Antiphons sung for centuries at Evening Prayer (Vespers) on seven successive days beginning December 17 and leading right to the threshold of Christmas. When we join our voices with the anonymous monk who composed these “O” Antiphons and the countless men and women who in the midst of this darkest season have similarly expressed their longing for God to abide in their hearts we too have faith that Christ has shown us the path beyond death, is continuing to enlighten and sweetly reorder the world, and ultimately will establish his dwelling among us in lasting peace.
Throughout 2009 our life has been filled with countless opportunities to experience God of which the most profound has most certainly been the birth of our daughter, Miriam Eileen Casad, whom we welcomed on April 19. She has filled our life and our home with joy. While the headlines announce times of scarcity and rationing, Miriam has helped us to see with the eyes of faith that God has abundantly blessed all of us and that we, in turn, need to give as freely of ourselves as God has graciously given everything to us, including his Son.
O Lord and giver of the law…redeem us
The names we have and the names we give are of great importance, indicating the fullness into which we are called to grow. It is our hope that Miriam, like her namesake the prophetess of the Exodus as a type of Mary, the Mother of God, will likewise lead the people of God in singing, dancing, and rejoicing in the wondrous deeds of the one who liberates us from slavery. The joy Miriam brought into our life on the day of her birth made concrete the Lord’s favor, as our daughter’s very presence echoes the joy that flows as a blessing from God to his people!
Surrounded by our parish community and many other friends we celebrated Miriam’s baptism on Ascension (May 25); our immediate families came from all over the US to take part in the joyous occasion as well. Miriam was reborn in Christ and subsequently clothed in a white baptismal gown which was also worn by Michelle, all three of her siblings, and Michelle’s mother and her siblings. She was covered in a bonnet made by Andrew’s great-great-grandmother Mottier in 1893; and swaddled in a new linen cloth beautifully edged and embroidered by a friend of ours as all assembled prayed that Miriam “See in her white garment the outward sign of her Christian dignity to be brought unstained into the everlasting life of heaven by the help of her family and friends’ word and example.”
O Root of Jesse…come and deliver us
Apart from the enormous changes in our lives as Miriam has blossomed much else that has rooted us here in North Carolina remains the same.
Michelle is finishing up her PhD in Cell Biology at Duke University. After a seven week maternity leave she has returned to the lab nearly full time. Michelle continues to play with the Saint Thomas More Handbell choir, including playing for Mass for her first Mothers’ Day a few weeks after Miriam’s birth. On a much sadder note, Michelle’s grandmother, †Ione Pellegrini, was born to eternal life on April 7. Though Miriam and Ione never met one another in this life, no doubt there was dancing in heaven when Miriam was born, fulfilling grandma’s constant asking for a great-grandchild.
Andrew is entering his fifth year as Director of Liturgy and Catechumenate at Saint Thomas More Catholic Church where he continues to orchestrate the worship life of the parish and oversee the process for those becoming Catholic–even in the midst of the expansive construction project currently underway. The position continues to allow him to further his education at professional conferences as well as to contribute to the ongoing formation of other parishes throughout the Diocese of Raleigh. In addition, he continues to teach online courses through the University of Notre Dame’s Satellite Theological Education Program.
O Key of David…open wide heaven’s gate
We were expecting Miriam to be born sometime very close to Easter and Andrew kept having nightmares wherein he was standing at the baptismal font during the Easter Vigil just as we were blessing the new waters at the same moment Michelle’s water broke! Thankfully such anxious premonitions did not happen and Miriam was born on the last day of the Octave of Easter just as Andrew was finishing up with a final evening of reflection. The labor was, as Michelle puts it, fast and furious. Everything happened as planned and six hours later Michelle and Miriam were healthy, happy, and nursing.
In these first eight months of Miriam’s life she has had many key first moments. Of course Michelle and I took great delight in the first time Miriam smiled, sat up, rolled over, pulled up on the coffee table, crawled after Linus the beagle and our cats, started new syllables, and ate solid foods, the latter coming with increasing frequency given her very recent addition of a tooth. She enjoys being outside and watching the chicken and sheep.
We have also enjoyed introducing her to some our favorite events. While my parents and sister were visiting we all went to the Duke Lemur Center. Miriam was taken to her first baseball game by her Nonna and Grandpa Jim at the the Durham Bulls stadium. Miriam also accompanied Michelle to a Duke football game but was not a fan of the big plays and even bigger crowd reactions. She seemed to like swimming with her daddy in Hyco Lake during the annual Rockman Lab Lake Day. And of course Andrew took great pride in donning Miriam in her first Clan Buchanan mini-kilt from her Grandma Sue to attend the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games in the Appalachian highlands of western North Carolina. Thanks to an unseasonably warm Halloween, Miriam dressed as a cow and was able to participate in Chapel Hill’s (in)famous Halloween festivities.
Miriam is becoming a greeter at church where she has many avid followers of her development who seem to delight in the squeals and smiles she makes as everyone enters the church. No doubt she will continue in this role for some time, bringing joy to others even amid difficult times.
O Morning Star…enlighten those in darkness
Here in the darkest season of the year we are reminded that the Light of Christ pierces the darkness not only of the winter but also of our hearts, enlightening us with the hope by which we we are saved. Summarizing the Benedictus (Canticle of Zechariah, Luke 1:68-79) sung each morning, this fifth “O” antiphon extols the “tender mercy of our God, the daybreak from on high to visit us.” The Lord’s coming is as certain as the rising sun at dawn, piercing the darkness and anxiety of all that holds us captive. Like Oriens, the Morning Star, Christ “guides our feet into the way of peace.”
Not merely a story that happened over 2,000 years ago, the infancy narrative of Jesus is a drama in which we are meant to see ourselves as players. At times we are John the Baptist, heralds of glad tidings, announcing by our words and actions the kingdom of God. At times we are Mary, the first Christian, who in humble obedience said “Yes” to the will of God for her life and in so doing became handmaiden to God’s reordering of the world. In all roles we begin by becoming a child in God’s care.
We, like John the Baptist, are a “little child…prophet of the Most High, sent before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give his people knowledge of salvation.” Michelle and I have come to experience deeply the monastic insight that comes from seeing the soul as the little child within each of us that must be similarly cared for as a newborn baby through our experience of giving Miriam a home, nourishing and nurturing her. As that which is similarly most precious and delicate our soul depends on the Lord to be fed and to be at rest, to be clothed and cleansed, and ultimately to find our purpose: “Like a small child against its mother, like a small child is my soul within me” (Ps 131).
We are invited in Advent to become like children, dependent on God alone by humbly recognizing our fragility and, emptied of our own ambitions, placing our soul at rest in God. We “pass from self to God by humility and the awareness of our smallness” and so are taken up into the infinite goodness of a God who goes to great lengths to reach out to us. As we invite the Morning Star to enlighten our hearts may we pray also that our hearts become a fitting home prepared to welcome the Lord to be born within us.
O King of nations…save all you have made
Advent further invites us to remember “that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now” (Romans 8:22) awaiting the fulfillment of that which God intended from the beginning. The Lord who fashioned us from the earth has made us stewards of creation. Advent helps us see the connection between how we choose to govern our lives and the impact this has on the gift of creation which God has bestowed on all generations of humans throughout the world. As Pope Benedict has succinctly stated, “If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation” (Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace 2010).
In Michelle and my continued commitment to simpler and more sustainable living–mindful of our role as stewards of the land–we have continued to build up our little farm. Our flock of Jacob Sheep continue to thrive: new lambs secure not only the protection of this heritage breed but also a plethora of cute photographs and plenty of wool for our use. We recently completed a pasture for rotational grazing of the sheep and as forage for future hives of honey bees. We may even add a milk cow! Our flock of free-range chickens gave us an abundance of eggs throughout the spring which was a welcome contribution to feeding our many guests. By next spring we hope to be harvesting fish from the earth pond we constructed about two years ago.
Although the rampant deer population and our overcommitted schedule have prevented us from planting our planned biointensive garden and fruit orchard, we continue to be involved with local sustainable agricultural endeavors through our CSA subscription, workshops Andrew attends, and sharing our insights through the ministry of the Environmental Stewardship Committee at Saint Thomas More. Rounding out the self-sufficiency project thus far, Andrew continues to brew his specialty mead as well as an occasional beer.
There is certainly much more we can do to care for the environment with which we’ve been entrusted and hope daily scrutiny furnishes more ideas and banishes any complacency. All of these help us to take time to bless the Lord, the God of all creation through whose goodness we have such fruits of the earth and by whose grace we can offer thanks for the work of our human hands.
O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of nations and our Savior:
come and save us, O Lord our God!
The forthcoming joy of God making his dwelling among us, dispelling the darkness of sin and death, and giving us hope by which we live anew is doubtless the dominant theme of Advent. But it is no mere coincidence that “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” comes in a minor key. While the reign of God is inaugurated by the Incarnation which we celebrate at Christmas, we do not have to look very far to see that the world is hardly perfect. Like an expectant mother awaiting the birth of her child, we can experience in the present moment the real joy for which we have been yearning and yet we are anxious for the day when the fullness of the Lord‘s plan will be realized, restless about the trials that lay ahead, and knowing there is more out there.
We see every day in our lives that the world needs redeeming. We know that we need saving from that which blocks us from growing into our full potential. With Christmas the sure and certain hope of salvation is what is born among and within us. Let us rejoice in that hope, take courage, and strive to be worthy stewards in that kingdom that is being raised up in our midst!
Bringing Miriam home was just the beginning of a lifetime commitment to accompany her on the journey that has been set before her. Many trials will cross her path and ours but we are confident that she will conquer those challenges. Each Advent we are reminded that our lives are no different than Miriam’s. We are just beginning to crawl in the way of faith. Each set back, each tumble that leaves us crying, becomes an invitation to find both consolation and encouragement in the loving arms of a God who has entrusted us with the stewardship of his kingdom, to ensure not only that it does not die but also that it continues to blossom, shine forth, and grow in our hearts and the hearts of all.