Each day, Giovina Caroscio prays part of the canticle of Zechariah, which is found in Luke 2:78-79.
“The daybreak from on high will visit us to shine on those who sit in darkness and death’s shadow, to guide our feet into the path of peace,” Caroscio said, quoting the passage.
She said it’s a beautiful prayer spoken by Zechariah, who had been struck mute for not believing an angel who told him that his wife Elizabeth would conceive. Once his son, John the Baptist, had been born, Zechariah wrote on a tablet that the boy was to be named John. Immediately his speech returned and he uttered his prayer to God.
“The closing line of that is one of the prayers that for me is the essence of the Advent season,” said Caroscio, a member of the program staff at Rochester’s Mercy Prayer Center.
The Advent season paints a picture of hope through the lives of people featured in the Advent readings, local clergy agreed. That message of hope is one of the reasons why Father Richard Shatzel, pastor of St. Mary Church in Honeoye, said he often celebrates a special Advent Mass to introduce his parishioners to some of Advent’s key figures — including Isaiah, John the Baptist and Mary — who all have lessons to teach about waiting for the future.
“Isaiah is the prophet of hope, and Advent, theologically, is the season of hope,” Father Shatzel said, pointing out that Isaiah lived in the midst of a dark time of war and strife, yet he prophesied of a light in the darkness and a child that would be born.
“He was looking forward to a bright future, in the midst of difficult times,” he said.
John the Baptist, who like his cousin Jesus was born during a time of peace enforced by Roman rule, prophesied of one greater than him who was coming and called on others to repent so they could be ready to meet that person, Father Shatzel said.
Mary also stands out in the Advent readings, Father Shatzel said, because of the faith and obedience she displayed upon learning she would be the mother of the Messiah.
“These are three persons that symbolize the spirit we should strive to have (during Advent) instead of the hectic pace coming up,” he said, noting that if people slow down they begin to notice the details of the Advent liturgies. “This is a rich time of liturgy, readings and hymns. Unfortunately, it gets lost in the hustle and bustle of commerce.”
Each prominent figure in the Advent liturgies overcomes a disability, which is a classic Biblical theme, said Father George Heyman, pastor of Community of the Blessed Trinity in Wolcott who also is a professor at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School. He said both Elizabeth and Mary’s ability to conceive sons despite being barren or celibate follows in this theme as an example of how God can triumph over the impossible.
“These people have some hope of God’s promise even in the face of their disability,” Father Heyman said.
The realistic situations these people faced show us how to deal with our own disabilities, he noted, and demonstrate how to have faith that God’s grace will shine through in the midst of darkness.
“In that realness, they mirror us,” he said.
Father Edward Salmon, superior of the Jesuit community at Rochester’s McQuaid Jesuit High School, said though St. Joseph never says anything in the Gospels, through his actions he shows his gratitude and demonstrates that God is at work in his life.
The Gospel of Luke includes Mary’s Magnificat, where she gives thanks. Worshippers should take time during Advent to follow her example, said Father Salmon, who taught during an Advent conference last year in New York City.
“We should take a look at what in our life God has done and say thank you,” he said.
Waiting is another key theme in the Advent liturgies, Caroscio said, noting that Elizabeth waited her whole life to become pregnant, while Mary waited alongside Elizabeth as she journeyed through her own pregnancy with the Messiah.
Caroscio said those featured in the Advent scriptures offer a message of hope to those who are waiting in their lives.
“In a sense, we’re kind of living in the between times, that Christ has come and will come at the end of times, and that will be the fullness of the kingdom,” Caroscio said. “We are in the present part of bringing forth the kingdom of God, as we wait hopefully with joyful expectation.”