Advent is all about waiting. But it’s not waiting for our turn because God’s line is busy. Is it wonderful that we do not have to take turns – we don’t have to wait to be in touch! Waiting is at the heart of Advent, active waiting. Even when we don’t know that we are waiting, we’re waiting. Even when we can’t find words to express what we are waiting for, we’re waiting.
For many people, Advent is an opportunity that is little understood, under-appreciated and commonly ignored. Advent is about learning to wait. It is about not having to know exactly what is coming tomorrow. Advent teaches us the difference between expectation, anticipation and waiting; suspense, eagerness and “twiddling your thumbs to pass the time”.
We are waiting not just during Advent, but at all times for the advent of light; that ultimate light that is redemptive and terrifying at the same time. It is redemptive because it puts an end to the darkness. That is also why it is terrifying because the light reveals all that was hidden in the darkness. For so long, actually for most of our lives, the darkness has been home. We’ve become comfortable in our incompleteness. Now to leave home is downright scary! Change my ways of interacting with God and God’s people? Whew! Allow my rough edges to be smoothed? That sounds irritating (no pun intended). We are gifted with Advent time to do personal “Isaiah work” of filling in every valley; leveling every mountain so the hills will become a plain, and the rough country will be made smooth. As the familiar banner asks: If not now, when?
One of the ancient Advent prayers supplies us with a sentiment that Benedict echoes: “Give us grace that we may cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” Many Advent hymns express the same theme. For example: “When the darkness closes in, courage fails and hopes grow dim, clear the shadows from our sight, set our troubled world aright, fill our eyes with radiant light. Come Lord Jesus, come!”
The final line of this Sunday’s selection from Matthew’s Gospel reminds us: “You must be prepared for, at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” That does not refer only to the hour of our death. You may remember the valuable lesson an Abbot shared with his Rabbi friend: “The messiah is among the ranks of your community”. We are challenged to be Messiah to each other, to treat each other with gentleness, respect, and courtesy for each one is the Messiah among us.
Our conversations can turn to stories and concerns focused outward, on the other rather than the self. There is a rare sprinkling of “I” and “my” and “mine”.” Attention is directed away from the self to shine our light on others. We radiate the blessings of life, not the gloom of sadness, sickness, tiredness, or woe. We become more fully human, full of compassion and full of consciousness. Our community Advent practices help hone the attitude of prayerfulness, almsgiving and compassion.
So, we pray: “May the God of Israel increase our longing for Jesus our Savior and give each and all of us the strength to grow in love, that the dawn of Jesus’ coming may find us rejoicing in his presence and welcoming the light of Truth.”
~by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB