Recently I had an appointment with my doctor for what I call ‘routine maintenance.’ I got there a few minutes early, fully expecting to wait a while. I had barely sat down in the waiting area when a nurse called me in to check my vitals. Then she took me to an examination room to wait for the doctor. Once again I figured it would be a long while, but within three minutes the doctor walked in for my visit. I was (happily) stunned. No offense to physicians, but most of my medical appointment experience has involved waiting for long periods of time. In fairness, these men and women are very busy, usually over-scheduled beyond their control. I also know there are other times and places in which we have to wait when we feel it is just too darn long, and maybe rightly so. But ours are lives filled with waiting, and often we get a bit impatient when we think things are not moving as they ought. Honestly, we are irked because we feel like we can do nothing about it.
Every year we either hear the phrase “Advent waiting” or we are reminded that in Advent we await the coming of Jesus during these four weeks. It is true, we are waiting. We think of waiting as being about passivity, but paradoxically it plays out as quite the opposite: we are in such a hurry to get all the details managed in preparation for Christmas that we are going at break-neck speeds. There is nothing passive about that at all, yet all the imagery we use in this season is about calmness and stillness. We sing hymns about silent nights and starry skies, open hearts waiting to be filled with the wonderful coming of the baby Jesus in a bucolic manger scene: nary a sound but the lowing, (whatever that is), of a cow.
However it was for Jesus, this is certainly not the world we live in today. Our world is very fast-paced; like it or not, it is the way we live. We have so-called conveniences which get tasks accomplished faster and supposedly free us up…to do more things. The result is that most of us are really not that good at waiting because we have gotten very used to doing so much in so little time. Much is expected of us, too. We have families and friends for whom we want to do nice things. We have jobs to keep up with and social events that need attending. Every year many of us intend to be quieter and spend more time savoring Advent, but somehow we never really get there by the time Christmas does arrive, so we say “there’s always next year” only to find out that our intention is not realized next year either.
There is something we can do about it. We can look at that for which we are waiting and weigh it alongside the quality of our waiting. We are waiting for Jesus to return, yes, and we are waiting to celebrate the day on which He entered into our world. We celebrate this with liturgical events and with Christmas parties, dinners, gift giving and the like. But the locus of our waiting is Jesus Christ, not all the activity. We wait upon God who comes into our world as a human with a mission and a message. There is more than a stable scene: it calls for us to be awed by the amazing miracle of God coming from Heaven to be one with us. If we really spent time thinking that through, we would never get off our knees! The Father sent the Son so that we might come to know Him better, so that we might have access to Heaven, so that we might know better what love, compassion, mercy, and joy really are, and so that we might know how much He loves us.
Why would he bend low to come to earth which is populated with people who are so sinful and broken? How could the perfect God who is glorious beyond anything we can imagine, become limited to an imperfect human body? It is incredibly moving to think of how He could be born to a human mother into a human family. This is the God of All the Universe, the God of Creation, who we are talking about. This is the only one true God, who is mighty beyond comprehension: the Holy One of Israel, the God of Hosts, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, and all the prophets. All that glory inside of a human baby who will grow so that we might know love as it truly is. As I said, if we really contemplated this, we would never leave our knees. But we do need to live our lives, so we have to take this mystery and this reality with us into the world.
This is what this third week of Advent is saying to us. We take the mystery into the world in which we live. Therefore we celebrate it differently than we do the first two weeks. We will light a rose colored Advent candle this week and the priest and deacon often wear rose colored vestments. This joyfully announces that our wait is almost over. But it also reminds us that if we have not already done so we should ‘stop and smell the roses,’ to savor that which we have left in our preparation. Time is short, but it is time pregnant with messages. (The puns are intended, but there is meaning in them.) Each day we have messages from God in the Scriptures about the joy of His coming. From Isaiah 61 telling us of the rejoicing with which He comes to heal that which is broken and release those who are captive, to how important it is to truly listen to what the prophets are saying, to our need to change our ways and affect the ways of the world: all of it is rising in intensity. The message is urgent.
This week we also begin the process of “counting down” to the glorious celebration of His birth with what are called the “O antiphons” which are sung or said before the reading of the weekday gospels. It begins on December 17 and finishes on December 24: “O Wisdom of our God Most High; O Leader of the House of Israel; O Root of Jesse’s stem, O sign of love for all His people; O Key of David; O King of all nations and keystone of the Church; O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice.” I suggest that we take the antiphon for each day and pray with it. It would be a great way to let the messages penetrate our hearts during our time of waiting. Another suggestion is to allow the preface prayers of the Mass to be part of our prayer, too. If we listen to how the Church prays, we certainly will get the message that Jesus wants for us to receive. (For where to find these, see below.)*
It is the quality of our waiting that needs to change if we are to really live Advent. You see, our waiting is not about passivity at all. It is about giving ourselves time to let the message become active in our hearts, minds, and souls. Waiting is about working to carve a space for the Word to dwell and to start doing that now. The season allows us to let that space grow in us so that when Christmas comes we already know something about what it means for us and our world, and for us to take action.
We are in training, so to speak, during Advent. We are preparing to hear the message that comes in that stable in Bethlehem. The Eternal Word of God is who is coming and His message comes to those who receive it. If we have prepared, what we have really done is to have learned how to work with the distractions in order to hear Him. What praying on the mysteries of the antiphons and prayers of the liturgies does for us is to enhance the quality of our waiting, and to help us to work with the activities in order to find Him there. It helps our hearts to stretch so that we reach out to the poor outcasts, just as Jesus came as a poor outcast, homeless and without material possession. It helps us to recognize Him in the incarcerated, marginalized, ill, lowly, and alienated. We do not have to wait for Him to come in order to know what it is that we are to do. The third week of Advent reminds us that in the waiting comes the joy of serving Him who comes to serve us.
May we receive the message of this third week of Advent! May we open our hearts to true Advent waiting! May we learn to work with the distractions of this time of preparation, finding the message in the midst of it! May the joys and challenges of this time help us to remember for whom it is that we wait! And may we fall to our knees as we wait before the mystery of the King of Glory who comes, especially as we encounter Him in one another! Let us meet, on our knees, in the Heart of Jesus! Marana tha! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
*This is the Preface Prayer for Advent I: http://www.catholicdoors.com/prayers/english5/p03361.htm
Here is the Preface Prayer for Advent II: http://www.catholicdoors.com/prayers/english5/p03362.htm
You can find the daily and Sunday readings at http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/121414.cfm (This link is for the third Sunday in Advent, but on top of the page you can change the date to the current one.)
The icons are the work of Fr. William Hart McNichols. The first is called Mother of God Waiting. If you are interested in purchasing a copy of this it can be found at http://www.standreirublevicons.com/gallery-views/mother-of-god-gallery/product/154-mother-of-god-waiting-in-adoration
The second icon is St. John the Forerunner (The Baptist). It can be found at http://www.standreirublevicons.com/gallery-views/holy-men-icons/product/137-st-john-the-forerunner-the-baptist
Heart Speaks to Heart