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BEFORE THE CROSS | Patient waiting is the key to a good Advent

Celebrating Christmas before its time leaves us tired and frazzled

“Blessed are all who wait for the Lord.” So the Psalm tells us on the Saturday of the First Week of Advent. It sums up one of the lessons we hear all week from the prophet Isaiah.

The readings from Isaiah this week might be called “the book of expectation.” Seven times during the week, he tells us what will happen “on that day.” Isaiah is looking forward to the day of the Lord and teaching us to wait for it with expectation.

But that’s a key question for us in the Advent season: Do we wait, or do we rush ahead?

Patient waiting is the key to a good Advent. But it’s hard to be patient when everything in culture urges us to rush ahead. Advent becomes an early celebration of Christmas rather than a preparation for it.

In some ways this kind of impatience was the root of Eve’s sin. God planned to give Adam and Eve the knowledge of good and evil. But He would give it to them when they were ready, and not before. Eve decided she couldn’t wait for God’s timing. She reached out and took the fruit before its time.

When we eat fruit before it’s ripe, the taste is physically bitter. The same is true spiritually: Eve took the fruit before the time was ripe, and it brought spiritual death. The same is true psychologically: When we celebrate Christmas before its time it leaves us tired and frazzled. Advent is an opportunity to heed that psychological truth, and turn it to our spiritual benefit.

What can we do to foster patient waiting in these days of Advent? Maybe we can use an Advent wreath, lighting the appropriate candles each night. Maybe we can use a Jesse Tree, walking through salvation history one event and person at a time. Maybe we can decorate our homes progressively through the weeks of Advent, rather than all at once. Maybe we can pray the Evening Prayer of the Church.

Use your own creativity! Just remember what St. Cyprian said: “Patient waiting is necessary … if we are to receive from God what we hope for and believe.” The patience we need is not just an attitude. Advent calls us to find actions that match the attitude.

This week we celebrate the feast day of St. John of Damascus. One of the things he’s famous for is the defense of icons against those who thought images were a violation of the Second Commandment. The Catechism explains the answer to this question in paragraphs 1159-1162 and 2129-2132. In the Old Testament God did not take an image for Himself, so the Israelites couldn’t make one for themselves. But in the New Testament God took on flesh; He provided an image for us. When we represent that image in artwork we’re acknowledging and confessing what God has done.

More profoundly than representing God’s image in artwork, however, we’re called to represent that image in our lives. So, in these days of Advent, what image are we presenting to the world: Are we icons of patient waiting, or icons of impatience and grasping?

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