The two great feasts of the Catholic Church are preceded by a period of preparation. Christmas, which celebrates the humanity of Christ, is ushered in by the Advent season, and Easter, which celebrates the divinity of Christ, has the Lenten season as its preparatory period. Both periods of preparation is a time to reflect and pray, a time for repentance and reconnecting with God.
The dictionary defines advent as the coming of an important person or event, and Advent, as a religious term, as “the birth of Christ, the second coming of Christ, the season including the four Sundays before Christmas.” For our purpose, i.e., for reflection and prayer, we will look at Advent as the coming of Christ into our life or a renewal of our relationship with Christ, especially the Christ who is Word Incarnate, the God-with-us, the Emmanuel.
Advent is always associated with the concept of waiting, a waiting characterized by joyful expectation. The late Fr. Jim Donelan, S.J., our Juniorate professor in the seminary, has a homily entitled “The Sacrament of Waiting.” He opens with these lines:
“The English poet John Milton once wrote that those who serve stand and wait. I think I would go further and say that those who wait render the highest form of service. Waiting requires more discipline, more self-control and emotional maturity, more unshakeable faith in our cause, more unwavering hope in the future, more sustaining love in our hearts than all the great deeds of derring-do that go by the name of action.”
Discipline, self-control and emotional maturity are qualities we would not normally associate with a seemingly mundane task such as waiting. These, though, are the qualities of waiting that Advent exhorts us to develop. But allow me to give these qualities one focus, which is the discipline, self-control and emotional maturity that makes one grow from being self-centered to other-centered.
I recall Fr. Donelan’s example in class when we discussed his homily on waiting. He differentiated between the person who impatiently waits, complaining how the delay has inconvenienced him/her, and the person who patiently waits, trusting that the other who is late has a good reason, or even waiting with concern for the other hoping that nothing unfortunate has happened to the other.
Much more than we imagine, waiting does require tremendous other-centeredness—and thus great discipline, self-control and emotional maturity. For us adults, we call such patiently waiting, but for an innocent child, it is waiting with joyful expectation, childlike awe and wonder as he/she waits for the “surprise” to reveal itself.
Last year, I bought a Christmas decoration for my five-year old ward. It was a stuffed toy Christmas tree that danced to a Christmas carol when you pressed it. I had it wrapped, since the little boy enjoyed opening gifts.
You could see the childlike awe and wonder in his face when he saw the wrapped gift. Then his eyes continued to sparkle in anticipation of seeing the gift itself. He removed the card from the gift, untied the ribbon, tore the wrapper, and opened the box. At that moment, when the gift revealed itself, he exclaimed, “Wow, a Christmas toy! Thank you, E!”
The waiting that is other-centered, this still surprises us with joy and gratitude and allows us to be childlike again to welcome the child Jesus in our life. It moves us to embrace life’s giftedness.
There is a saying in Filipino, “naghihintay sa wala” (literally, waiting for nothing; waiting in vain). The opposite is the power of the Christian waiting. It is to wait in faith and hope. The “unshakable faith in our cause” and the “unwavering hope for the future” are what define the Christian spirit, and which the Advent season makes us remember and renew.
In the Nazi concentration camps of World War II, it was later on discovered that those who survived the ordeal did so because they all believed they still had something meaningful to do in their life. Whether it was to see and be reunited with family and loved ones or to fight for a cause, these were the survivors whose human spirit could not be crushed by the cruelest of human acts. This is the power of waiting in faith and hope.
The season of Advent is a time of waiting. It is a waiting that renews our hope, that things can work in our communities and things can be better in our Philippine society. It is a waiting that reconnects us with the deepest values that we hold dear as a people, our love for family and our faith in God; values which make us desire for freedom and a better life.
But perhaps there is more to believe in and to hope for. Perhaps our waiting invites us to go beyond “the great deeds of derring-do that go by the name of action” and bring to life the “more sustaining love in our hearts.”
It is a time for renewal. We look around us and hope for better things; search for people and institutions to believe in; long for meaning and a mission worth dedicating our life to with great love. There is much to hope for and work on. This Advent we can start to “be the change we want to see in our world.” (Gandhi)