Advent is Upon Us!
Today, this year, Advent has already dawned, the sun is up in the east. It arrived in a world in the midst of a pandemic in a way that reminds me of Carl Sandburg’s poem “Fog.”
Here, in our country, it seems, more so than usual, that Advent is being eclipsed to begin celebrating Christmas…. TV ads, house and yard light displays, Christmas music (What happened to the plaintive Advent songs?). Others are experiencing anticipatory dread of a holiday separated from loved ones. Thousands of heavy hearts daily grieve the loss of family members, neighbors and friends. Circumstances have left many without work, no dependable source of income or the means of providing food and life’s necessities. A pale of depression and loneliness hangs over people aching for a human touch, a phone call … any sign that someone is aware of their pain.
Every Advent we have to delve into the Scriptures in order to feel the sense of the messages of hope, peace, love, and joy. Our nighttime darkness will continue to lengthen until December 21 and the winter solstice moving us ever closer towards the celebration of Jesus’ birth. The advent hymns we’ll sing – and the antiphons used at Morning and Evening Praise – keep impressing upon us the need to pray for “comfort for those who sit in darkness” and those whose “hearts yearn for the light of Christ.” We must announce to a “world that waits in silence” that “our souls in stillness wait.” We believe the words of the prophet Habakkuk: The message I give you waits for the time I have appointed. It speaks about what is going to happen. And all of it will come true. It might take a while. But wait for it. You can be sure it will come. It will happen when I want it to.
While Advent is certainly a time of waiting it is also a time of anticipation and celebration in its own rite. It is the between-time that Karl Barth speaks of: “Unfulfilled and fulfilled promises are related to each other, as are dawn and sunrise. Both are promise and in fact the same promise. If anywhere at all, then it is precisely in the light of the coming of Christ that faith has become Advent faith, the expectation of future revelation. But faith knows for whom and for what it is waiting. It is fulfilled faith because it lays hold on the fulfilled promise. This is the essence of Advent.”
We’ve all had experiences of waiting … that’s part of all our lives. The season of Advent reminds us that waiting is often the cost of love. In waiting for someone, our own everyday business becomes almost meaningless as we anticipate, worry, and prepare for a loved one’s return, or an estranged family member or the unknown visitor who becomes the friend we had just never before met and now recognize as Christ personified. In waiting, we realize our own powerlessness; we realize our deepest hopes, and needs and yearnings. People and events we didn’t know we missed until we encounter them.
More than ever, this year, in the midst of the pandemic, I suspect the spirit of Advent will pale in the face of the hurry to put up decorations and play some Christmas music. People can’t wait for Christmas to come with the promised vaccine.
May our waiting for the coming of the Holy One this Christmas help us understand and carry on the mystery of compassionate and generous waiting. Don’t expect a dramatic vision but do try to become more conscious of the Christ coming through our doors, in one another as each enters our community room or are seated to “break bread” at mealtime. In our corporate commitment we pledge to be the embodiment of the compassion of Christ. And it is obvious from our visitors’ comments that this is one of our signature ministries. Our guests, and we who live here, know that our companions care for us … the question at times may be: “do we care about each other?” One litmus test: “Until you know what hurts me, you cannot truly love me.”
In his 2020 Advent letter, Pope Francis reminds us: “Advent, a time of grace, tells us that it is not enough to believe in God: it is necessary to purify our faith every day.” We pray: “O Holy Spirit, fill our hearts with Advent hope so that we may learn to cope with the delays and disappointments we encounter with patience and wisdom. May a spirit of gratitude and humility guide us on our journey to your dwelling place, enabling us to endure, with joy, the costs of waiting for love, reconciliation, and peace.”
Ask yourself as you turn off the light each night…
+ To whom did I offer a word of hope, affirmation or comfort today?
+ How was I a ray of light to someone who felt the darkness of loneliness?
+ Tomorrow, how will I prepare for Christ to be born anew in my heart?
~Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB, Prioress
First Reading Isaiah 63:16b-17,19b;64:2-7 Second Reading 1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Gospel Mark 13:33-37