I hope that you are ready for a new Church year as we begin the season of Advent. In this time of preparation, we look forward to celebrating the birth of Christ in history, His birth in our lives today and His coming at the end of time.
Advent is the practice of waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promises. This season is a practice of anticipation, remembrance and celebration. We know that Jesus was born in history. We have details of His early life in the Scriptures, and we have promises that still have not been fulfilled. We can learn much from our sisters and brothers of the Jewish faith. They have been awaiting the Messiah for thousands of years.
The history of the Jewish people guides us in anticipation and fulfillment. As we read their history in the Old Testament, we see the fluctuations between fidelity and infidelity, between a close relationship with God and separation. We also follow their example of repentance, renewal and recommitment to the covenant that God made with us and with them. One of the reasons the Church year is built on a cycle of preparation and fulfillment is that we need to keep practicing what it means to not have everything exactly when we want it.
There aren’t many things that we have to wait for because of the convenient world in which we live, but we have some reminders. With supply chain disruptions and an unstable job market, we’ve seen a bit more insecurity and unpredictability. We shouldn’t confuse this current level of inconvenience with real suffering. It may feel that way, but try to put into context our small inconveniences with those who have no home, clothing or food, or even a homeland. Imagine what it’s like as winter approaches to anticipate living outdoors because of a lack of housing. Even though our inconveniences are small, we certainly can use them to train us in waiting rather than constantly responding with anger. Instead of blaming someone or some group for our inconvenience, wouldn’t it be more graceful to accept the inconvenience as a gift and to be open to what God has to teach us through that inconvenience?
No one is completely satisfied or in absolute and complete union with God. We have the full and complete fulfillment of the promise of God to look forward to. During Advent, we have a chance to renew within our minds and hearts the promises God has made to us. We profess that Christ has died, risen and will come again. The idea of His coming again often leaves us with questions, fears and sometimes false securities.
Advent is a short season. It’s crowded out by our anticipated celebrations of Christmas. We barely leave room to prepare for the coming of Christ, because we are too often anxious for gifts and parties. Can we figure out a way to leave room in these four weeks for a bit of anticipation? We all know what anticipation feels like. It necessitates something or someone that we are looking forward to. I am personally anticipating visiting with relatives from Europe whom I haven’t seen in person in a long time. Leading up to their arrival, I am making sure that I have everything ready, including what I would like to share with them. There is a chance that some of my plans will go unfulfilled. Just like preparation for Christmas, I think I need to be more trusting and less controlling of how that visit might go. I think that’s similar to our approach to the coming celebration of the birth of Jesus and His second coming. Let us await with great joy and anticipation, but let’s also leave some room for the plans that God has to reveal Himself to us and how He would like to affect our lives.
Mary and Joseph certainly ended up with different accommodations than they anticipated in Bethlehem. If they didn’t trust in God, they might have become disgruntled and missed the joy of the great gift they were being given. They might have missed the gift out of frustration and anger about what they thought they deserved. Have you ever missed the love in front of you because it didn’t look like what you anticipated? Have you ever been disappointed in the gift that you’ve received because it wasn’t as grand or generous as you thought it should have been? Our anticipation needs to have the characteristics of freedom and emptiness. When God says He will give us a gift in His coming, let us freely trust Him and not put conditions on that gift.
Father Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.
First Sunday of Advent
Sunday, Nov. 28
Psalm 25:4-5, 8-9, 10, 14
1 Thessalonians 3:12—4:2
Luke 21:25-28, 34-36