There is something about the season of Advent that draws me into a holy waiting. I vibrate with an awareness of a dark and broken world, so in need of light, and love, and peace, and new life. Who other than the infant Jesus can give us those gifts?
It seems like Almighty God is requesting the honor of my presence at the birthday of his Son. I accept the invitation to be alert, and so prepare to receive Jesus, and the gifts he brings.
This year however, there is a very different waiting – the hope that the Covid-19 pandemic will soon be over, or at least a good vaccine is available to protect us from the deadly virus.
As I get in touch with my longing for deeper meaning in my life, I remember that all of the Advent people were waiting – Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph, and even Simeon and Anna.
Henri Nouwen eloquently said, “the spirituality of waiting is not simply our waiting for God. It is also participating in God’s own waiting for us, and in that way coming to share in the deepest love, which is God’s love.”
I realize that Mary is an essential part of the story, because if there was no Virgin Mary, then there would be no Incarnation, and obviously no Advent. She pondered quietly the many questions that surfaced, and is a role model of a handmaid of the Lord.
When the angel Gabriel delivered his message, God waited for Mary’s YES. Her reply wasn’t a passive act of obedience, rather a courageous step in faith, as the Holy Spirit impregnated her with the Word of God.
I find myself walking with Mary in this unusual Advent. Prior to the Annunciation, Mary was set to marry Joseph and raise a family. God’s plan threw hers out, and instead of panicking, and resenting her unusual situation, she trusted God, and willingly surrendered herself with the words, “May it be done to me according to your word.”
At the start of the pandemic, I was initially upset like many of us, until I learned to adapt to the changes, and adopt another way of praying. “O Jesus, I surrender myself to you, take care of everything” has become my constant prayer, especially this Advent, as I follow the contemplative Mother of God, and my mother too.
It is customary for us to have an Advent Taize prayer service when we sit in a candle lit church, sing Taize music, read Scripture, and listen in silence to the Lord.
St. Teresa of Calcutta said, “Jesus is always waiting for us in silence. In that silence he will listen to us, there he will speak to our soul, and there we will hear his voice.” Waiting and praying in Advent silence will better prepare us for the birthday of the King.
Over the years I have enjoyed singing Advent and Christmas music with various choirs. The Coronavirus has forced us to hit the pause button, since no choir singing is allowed.
As I set up the Advent wreath with four candles and contemplate the mystery of the Incarnation, I find myself singing familiar tunes. Placing the first purple candle in its slot, I sing the plaintive “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” remembering that this is called the “Prophet’s Candle” symbolizing Hope, for Isaiah waited in hope for the Messiah’s arrival.
“O Come, Divine Messiah” springs forth as the second purple candle slips into place. It is called “Bethlehem’s Candle” representing Faith. The prophet Micah foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. The music beat quickens with “We are waiting, for the Lord is near” as the rose-colored candle of Joy called the “Shepherd’s Candle” reminds me of the angels’ message tothe shepherds, that Jesus came from humble people like them.
By now I am lifted in anticipation with the song “Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King,” for the third purple candle called the “Angel’s Candle” represents the Peace that Jesus brings.
Getting ready in this short liturgical season, means to skip what distracts us, and savor each sweet moment of faith building, for we are called to prepare the way of the Lord. May we allow the many themes of Advent – repentance, hope, promise, joy, expectancy, and waiting, expand us, so that we make a home in our hearts for the infant Jesus.
Imitating Mary, I prayerfully ponder some of the promises Jesus has made to us: his grace is sufficient for us (2 Corinthians 12:9), to be with us till the end of time (Matthew 28:20), and to hold us in the palm of his hand (John 10:28). I nod in agreement with Bishop Robert Barron that, “there’s a permanent Advent quality to Christian life. We wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior.”