My Advent waiting was challenged last weekend as I was in an airport getting ready to leave the northeast. Just as we were boarding our plane it began to snow. I was aware of a blizzard that was supposed to strike the area and realized this snow was the beginning. I knew that if we did not take off soon we might get caught in that city, midway between our starting point and our home. The plane was "pulled aside" to be de-iced, the third plane in line for this important safety precaution. Snow began to fall even faster and heavier and all I could think of is that if we waited any longer we would be stranded. Waiting was not at all what I wanted to do. Yet as I reflected on this after the plane finally got cleared for take-off and was airborne, I realized that this sort of challenge was at the very heart of Advent-waiting: that is, waiting is difficult work.
These past few weeks have been rather hectic for just about all of us, I would venture to guess. This time of year is particularly difficult for many people, whether it is due to too much work and not enough time to accomplish all the things we need/want to do, or whether it is due to having experienced a loss at this time of year which makes it a bit painful to face the holidays. Somehow this time of year is supposed to be joyous and festive, but with all the burdens we carry, we may not feel that way at all. We may feel harried, no matter how much we try to stay in the stream of the peacefulness of the Advent season or no matter just how much music we listen to that says we should be cheery. Or perhaps we may have peace in the midst of it all, but find that many of our friends do not feel that way, and we are challenged to try to be a source of peace for them.
Once again, let us turn to the prophecy of Isaiah to find our peace. Isaiah 40:28-31 says this: "Do you not know or have you not heard? The Lord is the eternal God, creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint nor grow weary, and His knowledge is beyond scrutiny. He gives strength to the fainting; for the weak He makes vigor abound. Though young men faint and grow weary, and youths stagger and fall, they that hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar as with eagles' wings; they will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint." The Lord is reminding us that everything is in His hands and that we have nothing to fear or over which to be anxious. A more appropriate message could not be found!
The truth of the matter is that God is the master of all there is. God does not tire and so when we have burdens and are feeling overwhelmed, all we have to do is to put them in His hands. This requires trust. We have to let go of our burdens when we most feel like clinging to them. God Himself is reminding us that we need to hope in Him and not our own ability (or inability) to get things done. He is reminding us that He has our best interests in mind even when we truly cannot see it. He is reminding us that when we are feeling weakest, He will be our strength. How we need this message especially when the waiting becomes burdensome because we have so much to do!
In the calm before the blizzard which we may see coming, waiting can become a challenge: we feel helpless as we see it coming and we can do nothing to ‘get the plane off the ground.’ It is in the hands of someone else and we are powerless to get 'aloft' on our own. It is also difficult to wait when we are surrounded by the storm as it hits, because we think all is lost. But God is trying to tell us that we need to trust that He will get us through if we keep our eyes on Him. He is coming to enter our world of anxiousness and hectic frenzies. He is coming into our world as a vulnerable baby in order to enter into the fears and worries we have, vulnerable as we are vulnerable. He could have come as the king He truly is, but instead He chose to enter our state of constant vulnerability. This was chosen because He wanted us to know that He truly understands what our lives are like, and because He loves us.
We must remember for whom it is that we wait: He is the Prince of Peace. This Prince comes as a tiny baby within the safety of Mary's womb, yet vulnerable to all the dangers that lurk in the world around her. Her pregnancy was an opportunity for anxiety; but His presence no doubt calmed the fears of Mary, and also of Joseph, as they waited in uncertainty, wondering how to raise such a child. It would seem that even in the bucolic scene of wise men and shepherds to come, there is the looming storm of danger. The fact remains: Jesus was in danger from the moment He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in His mother’s womb. He who is the Prince of Peace would be attacked before He could even speak. His parents had to constantly wait for God to guide them, and Jesus had to live in an uncertain world. But being the Prince of Peace His very presence points us to the words of Isaiah: “Have you not seen and have you not heard? …They that hope in the Lord will renew their strength.” It is difficult to remain calm unless one stays in the moment and finds the presence of God there. He is the one who helps us when we are feeling overwhelmed and faint. He is our strength.
It is interesting, but not a coincidence, that this second week of Advent is punctuated with two feasts of Mary, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Guadalupe. Mary is the Immaculate Conception; that is, she was conceived in her mother's womb free from sin in anticipation of her 'yes' to God. God prepared her, knowing that while she was always free to say no to Him when He sent the angel to her, her heart would be so pure and so turned toward Him that she would indeed say yes. Many people get confused by this, but remember that she always maintained her freedom. God, however, is God of all time, so He already knew what her response would be. Therefore He made her exempt from the stain of sin so that she would be a fitting vessel for His Son. To put that into the perspective of Advent, she spent her whole life waiting for the moment of encounter with God, yet she did not know it would be as the mother of His Son. What she did know was that God was all around her, and her waiting was always pregnant, in an openness to Him that always sought to be filled with God’s presence. She trusted the words of prophets like Isaiah who prophesied a Messiah. She was a woman of waiting for God to fulfill His promises. She trusted and she waited. And He came.
The second Marian feast, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, teaches us that Mary reaches out to the lowliest, humblest of God's people when we are in need. God hears the cries of His people. Always. Mary, who understands our needs, and who was one of the lowly ones during her lifetime, knows that the waiting of the poor is indeed very painful and difficult. Those of us poor in spirit, or who are lonely, missing a loved one, worrying about the bills, needing a job, needing mercy or healing, worrying about someone we love.... we all find waiting very difficult. But Mary reminds us that God has not forgotten us and that He sends her as His messenger of hope. We, who find waiting difficult, are in His sight. And Jesus, the one for whom we wait, continues to give us strength and hope. We wait, after all, for the Prince of Peace whom Isaiah told us is coming. He comforts us, He gives us strength, He renews us when we are faltering, He gives us wings as of eagles. In the midst of the storm of whatever assails us during our preparation, He is ever present helping us to carry our burdens. And in the midst of the season of challenges to our waiting, the time can be transformed if we keep our eyes on Jesus and trust in His message. We do know and we have heard! He is ever with us, helping us as we wait for Him to be born yet again into our vulnerability and our fears, transforming them into the peace of knowing we are loved eternally.
May we pray for the ability to see and hear and know the calming presence of the Messiah who comes! May we be calmed of our fears and all which challenges our waiting! May we be filled with the joy of knowing that His coming is soon! May we have the trust and the hope that in the midst of the storm of preparations and distractions, He is here to give us strength! Let us continue to meet in the heart of the Prince of Peace who comes! Marana tha! Peace!
The retablo and icon are the work of Rev. William Hart McNichols. The retablo is called Retablito de la Sagrada Familia and it can be found at
The icon is called Mother of God She Who Hearts the Cries of the World and can be found at http://www.standreirublevicons.com/gallery-views/mother-of-god-gallery/product/220-mother-of-god-she-who-hears-the-cries-of-the-world?Itemid=103
The photo was also taken by Fr. Bill. It is a winter scene from Arroyo Seco, New Mexico.
*This is a nice time of year to purchase a giclee or plaque of an icon as a gift, so do check out Fr. Bill's website when you go to the links I posted. Remember, I get nothing from endorsing his work except the joy of sharing the beauty of the icons and images with you.
©Michele L. Catanese
Heart Speaks to Heart