Advent: A Season for Hope, Faith, Joy and Peace

Advent Reflections by Sister Mary Elizabeth Imler, OSF

Check back here frequently through Christmas for new reflections and inspirations from USF’s vice president of mission integration and university ministry.

“A place called home.” I pull hard but cautiously and the stable comes out. It’s pretty rickety and you have to be very careful with it but that’s true for most dwelling places. So its just a little wooden shelter. Nothing fancy but a place of comfort and safety. I think about its simplicity and I let it speak to me a bit of its symbolic message this year. I was thinking just as Jesus chose the chaste cloister of Mary’s womb and the little town of Bethlehem, hidden and unknown, so, too does the Christmas birthing come to my little “stable” of heart and home. Life needs a good balance, we were told, a proper balance of busyness and stillness, decorations and unclutter, activity and solitude. How blessed we are here at USF to have the gift of time between Christmas and the new year to find some a balance. Let me not fall into the temptations of the secular and hold true to the sacred this season. May I be drawn to sit and rest just a little within the shelter and quiet of my home after the flurry of lists and lines, worry and  weariness, reality and rush and appreciate the presence of the real reason for this season, Emmanuel.

On the roof of the stable (which is on the bottom of the box) is the angel. She is wrapped in tissue paper and bubble wrap so the wings make it through each off season. This angel is precious, a family heirloom. She has a bit of shimmer to her though much of it has worn off over the many years of wear and touch. I believe in angels. Do you? I believe because I have truly been touched by them. I may not have had a conversation as true as the Blessed Mother did but I can say I sometimes “feel the brush of their wings” or ‘hear them calling my name.” I do try when I see their gift that I acknowledge their traces left behind. This day if you happen to have a delightful surprise happen to you, I pray, you recognize the angels God sends in and among us. May we give thanks and praise to our loving and generous God who delights us with angels. Keep your eyes peeled for that surprise! Peace in this third week of Advent.  Let us rejoice and be glad.


On this last academic Friday most of the characters are out of the box, strewn all over the floor. I have to check around if there is anyone missing for the manger scene before I begin assembling. I am waiting for the last pieces. Waiting…the main tone for advent. I want to share this quote from Joseph Cardinal Bernardin from an advent homily. “Active waiting for the Lord means not allowing ourselves to be lulled into purely private interest in our homes, but donating our attention, time and talents. It implies sharing our strengths and accepting our weaknesses in our parishes, schools, community work, and in society.” A good pause today to consider if I am in “active waiting” mode. Things won’t just happen but rather we need to step up and push forward with the characters and pieces we have. More to come all next week because we aren’t finished yet. Stay tuned. Peace in the flurry of graduation.

The Magi are coming! The three Kings otherwise known as the “Magi” are wrapped in tissue paper for precious keeping. Even though they are considered the rich and famous, they will stand in the background until the feast of the Epiphany, January 6 in the new year. But they still get reserved seating at my manger. All are welcome to celebrate Jesus’ birthing. Sounds like our mission, to be “a welcoming community.” Is there someone you need to reach out to before this year ends? Jesus’ birth brings the miracles of healing broken relationships, binding up the wounded, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless which is the real work of Christmas beyond cards and cookies. What riches might I have to share with others?

If the sheep are out of the manger box, a shepherd or shepherdess can’t be far behind. These represent the simple folks in those times. Not necessarily the poor because they had assets in their flock but surely not the rich. They lived by their trade much as most do here at USF. Maybe this is a good day to really think of the talent we each bring to USF and how it fulfills the USF mission. Especially today on this feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patron of all the Americas, may we share Mary’s concern and care for the poor and the powerless. The Advent Calendar of Kindness suggests we simply share a smile to stranger or two or three. Simple gifts for humble people.

If Mary is out of the box, then Joseph must not be far behind. Actually, Joseph is leading the donkey with pregnant Mary in the statue I referred to yesterday. He is the silent one, who has no words credited to him in the Gospel stories only references Jesus as the “carpenter’s son.” I suppose as in the design of marriage, he would be known as Mary’s partner in parenting. In what ways did he companion Mary and share parenting? Joseph as a carpenter, what else did he as father teach Jesus besides the trade? I wonder how helpless he felt in Bethlehem not even able to find a place to stay or during the actual birthing of Jesus. Helplessness is uncomfortable but pretty common feeling in life, at least in mine. Perhaps I might look to Joseph for strength as I am certain Mary and Jesus did.

We start this second week of Advent and beneath the animals in the manger box are the human creatures. On top is a special Advent piece with a very pregnant Mary on a donkey. Having just celebrated the feast of Mary’s Immaculate Conception December 8, I think Mary is a perfect one to start adding to the Christmas manger. What do you think of when she comes to mind? In what manner are we pregnant with a newness of life? Whom do we nurture? And who nurtures us? Motherhood is a very special calling. Give thanks for those who are true mothers to us.


Guess who’s coming today? Last day of the first week of advent and the ass is found in the manger box. Why an ass? I think this character brings a bit of JOY and hilarity to the scene. Sometimes I find life just waaaay to serious and we forget especially at a Franciscan place it helps to be intentional about joy and fun. Also in our Catholic heritage, Jesus showed us the way is filled with joy as well as sadness. Isn’t it ironic that the Advent Calendar of Kindness calendar suggests that we “Tell a joke to make someone smile” today. Not a bad idea for a random act of kindness! Let’s not be afraid to be a little silly once in a while.

Happy “hump day!” Speaking of humps… the next animal out of the box is the camel. Only a “one hump” camel do we have. This animal always stays in the background until the three kings come after Christmas. But their hump gives them what they need to persevere through the waiting. What sustains you through the dry times? What is the longing you hold out for in this encounter with God? What do you need to hang in the background “until He comes?” May you find deep within you what you need to persevere through this Advent until Christmas comes to your heart. But be ready because God comes in surprising ways! Peace this Wednesday.

Advent greetings! We begin the season of Advent awaiting the end of classes, finals, winter commencement, holiday break but really it begins our waiting for Christmas. The real “reason for the season.” Let this be a season of kindness. I offer you a calendar to mark the days in small acts of respect and compassion. We can make the world believe again by bringing the love of Jesus present in our corner. Journey with me and make USF a place of warmth. We can do this… together. Peace today!