The waiting of Advent is filled with possibility and promise
Due to last year’s pandemic, I was forced to do my Christmas shopping a little later than I normally prefer. I knew that it was going to still be chaotic — albeit socially distant chaotic — in the stores, but I figured there would be plenty of Christmas goods to choose from. I was stunned though when I entered a particular store and was greeted by Valentine’s hearts and candy.
“Um, excuse me,” I asked. “Are there any Christmas ornaments here?”
“Oh, yes,” the clerk replied, “but we put them in the back. Christmas is almost over; it’s time for Valentine’s Day. You’re late.”
I probably should not have been surprised, but given the impatience of the world, it’s not too shocking.
Advent has always been one of my favorite times because it presents an opportunity to prepare for the Lord and reflect upon God’s presence in my life. However, sometimes people just do not want to prepare.
I remember once coming out to light the Advent wreath prior to an Advent penance service and not finding it! I thought that someone was playing a joke, but the sacristan quickly confirmed that it was worse than I thought.
“Father, are you looking for the Advent wreath?”
“Yes,” I responded.
“Well, I put that away,” she said. “We have to bring the Christmas trees out when this thing is over; I mean, we only have four days to get ready; that wreath takes up too much room.”
In a culture of fast food, high-speed internet, on-demand services and 24/7 virtual access, I suppose that Advent is becoming more of a struggle every year. I am sure that we have attended Christmas pageants, Christmas parties and endured endless Christmas music on the radio all before the birth of Christ. The amazing thing is that after Dec. 25, all of that is nowhere to be found. The only remedy seems to be preaching patience and waiting in joyful hope.
St. Cyprian, an eloquent preacher, had this to say on patience: “Dear brethren, we must endure and persevere if we are to attain the truth and freedom we have been allowed to hope for; faith and hope are the very meaning of our being Christians, but if faith and hope are to bear their fruit, patience is necessary” (Office of Readings, Saturday, First Week of Advent).
Patience is very difficult, but at times we can learn patience from some unexpected sources. Once when I was having lunch in the cafeteria at the parish grade school, I noticed that a third-grader was eating a box of cookies at lunch. However, when he got to the last two, he put them back in the box and put the box in his backpack.
“Are you full?” I asked him.
“Oh, no,” he answered. “I’m saving those cookies; I love the suspense, and it gives me something to look forward to later!”
I think he understood the value of waiting, and he knew that good things do come to those who wait. He did both Jesus and Famous Amos proud.
It is very tempting to rush the seasons, and I know that I often will work on a Christmas homily long before the four candles of Advent are lit. While preparedness is good, patience is better. Waiting is not like standing in line at the DMV (thank God), or even enduring the doctor’s call while reading magazines in the office.
Instead, the waiting of Advent is filled with possibility and promise. It is a reminder that we have a limited time to prepare our minds and our hearts for the coming of Christ. Jesus will return and our call is to fidelity, not efficiency. Advent is not the waiting room of Christmas, but a season of hope that reminds us that God comes to us in the midst of chaos. He calls us in order to lead us to something greater and more fulfilling.
There is a great line in the movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” which yields insight into the spiritual life: “Life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
I pray that this Advent is a time of prayer, preparation and patience so that when the presence of God comes to us, we don’t miss him either.
FATHER MICHAEL ACKERMAN is the parochial vicar at the parish grouping of Holy Sepulcher in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania, and St. Kilian in Butler, Pennsylvania.