Advent by the Nativity Scene: Week 2 - Mercy
“All of us are asked to obey (Christ’s) call to go forth
from our own comfort zone in order to reach
all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the Gospel.”
— Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium
(“The Joy of the Gospel”), Nov. 24, 2013

Second Sunday of Advent
Readings for this week
Is 40:1-5,9-11 | Ps 85:9-14 | 2 Pt 3:8-14 | Mk 1:1-8

Ideas for better mercy

A prayer for mercy

The shepherds and their sheep

The shepherds who slept in the fields are an example of the people Pope Francis is referring to when he says we must reach out to all who live on the peripheries. Who are the shepherds in our lives whom we push to the periphery? Who have we chosen to alienate or ignore? Who is the outcast in our neighborhood, place of work, family, parish or circle of friends? Who is the one we feel is too angry, boastful, boring, whiny, backward or difficult to like? Advent calls us to pay attention to them.

Not only have we pushed some people to the peripheries in our own lives, but the world has pushed entire cultures, nationalities and countries to the peripheries, forcing millions of people to live in unnecessary poverty. The first reading for this week reminds us Advent is a time to show mercy to all those in need. “Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God ... Make straight in the wasteland a highway ... Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low” (Is 40:1, 3-4). Isaiah is not suggesting we power up bulldozers to rearrange the landscape. But he may be talking about leveling the economic playing field for those who live in the valley of poverty while others dwell on a mountain of riches. Pope Francis warns us we have to move out of our comfort zones if we want to give comfort to others. Are we prepared to be more merciful this Advent?

Ideas for Gentle Mercy

* Let’s start with those closest to home. Is there a way we can show extra kindness and compassion to those whom we prefer to ignore in our lives? Look closely at the shepherds in your Nativity scene. Is it possible they represent someone God is calling you to wrap in kindness this Advent?

*Pope Francis, in a May address to the United Nations Chief Executives Board, encourages us to “... give back generously and lavishly whatever we may have earlier unjustly refused to others.” To give back lavishly to the poor we must adopt them as one of our own children. We could level out our distribution of gifts this year if we gave the poor the same amount we spend on just one person who is most special to us.

* Could you budget the same amount for gifts to the poor as you budget for gifts for one of your own children, even if it means giving less to your own children?

* Could you divide your gift budget for a loved one and send half the money to a charity in that person’s name?

* If there are children in the family, try to involve them in decisions about where and how to help the needy. Teach them early that the true meaning of Christmas is about giving and not getting.

* Advent is not only a time to remember Christ’s first coming, but also to anticipate his second coming. Take time to read and reflect on Matthew’s Gospel story, “The Judgment of the Nations” (Mt 25:31-46). The image of the shepherd and sheep is used to show who will and who will not earn a place in heaven. Jesus says when he comes again, he will want to know how we have shown mercy to others.

* Pick one of the ways Jesus tells us we can be good sheep and make this charitable work part of your Advent practice.

* Keep in mind people are not just poor during the holidays. If possible, select an Advent corporal work of mercy that you can do throughout the coming year.

* Perhaps when you look upon the shepherds you need to see Jesus as the Good Shepherd. If you feel like a lamb in need of our Lord’s tender love and mercy this Advent, turn to Psalm 23 and remember, “The Lord is my shepherd.”

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