Christmas can sneak up on us while we are caught up in the mad whirl of shopping and parties, and then be gone without a trace. Too often, by the time December 25th arrives we are fed up with elves and reindeer, sick of Christmas music and tired of jaded decorations. Today it seems every celebration is anticipated too much, until it is worn out before it arrives. This is the way of society in which we live today: hasty, instant, and disposable.
Advent, which means coming, is, in reality, a time of waiting. Waiting is something we are not used to doing. From the beginning to end, the liturgy for Advent revolves around a tireless refrain: be ready; be waiting.
But what are you waiting for? Some are waiting simply for the whole thing to end. Like Lent, for them, Advent is a bore. What are you waiting for? You alone really know. But what should you be waiting for?
The liturgy never tires of telling us you should be waiting for the Lord, for the coming of a saving Christ. But isn’t this a form of charades, of play acting? We make believe that Christ has not come yet, and all the while every bell tower and TV channel, every department store and cash register, jingles that He has come.
The New Testament itself assures us that the Son of God did touch our earth in Bethlehem. That Jesus is here in our midst because we are gathered in His name. And that in a little while He will be sacramentally present on this table. That the Christ we offer here in the Calvary of the mass will give Himself to us as food. That day in and day out, He is present within our whole person because if we love Him, He and His Father come to us and make their home within us.
He has come. He is here. He lives within us! So what is there to wait for? The answer I suggest is how you wait for the Lord.
You see, there are various ways of waiting: a poor, lonely old man on a park bench; someone waiting at an airport; a pregnant woman in a maternity ward. Each is waiting, but oh what a difference. The old man on the park bench does not expect very much.
He will be happy if someone, anyone, comes along, someone to talk to, to make the time pass until supper. He will be satisfied if he is not mugged. His tired legs will take him from a cold bench to a cold apartment.
A person waiting at an airport, waiting for a plane, is there with excitement. The plane means something. It is all the difference between home, or being away from home. Being warmed with the love of a family, or being stranded with strangers.
And then we have the mother about to give birth. There might be tension, anticipation, and excitement. Two facts are uncommonly true here, and peculiarly pertinent to our Advent waiting. First, he who is to come has been there all along. The problem is the child has been a hidden presence, a bit unreal at times, not quite believable. But then, at a certain moment the child actually transpires, comes to light, is held in loving arms and is uniquely here. Then there is joy and rapture, peace and calm.
Such, I suggest, is your Advent. Not the boredom or loneliness of a park bench. Not only the anticipation of an airport. But rather, a bringing to light. Christ is here! Not only among you, but within you. His life lives in you.
Advent is a form of giving birth. Its function is to bring a living Lord to life, in your living. Christmas for you is not a given day, December 25th. Christmas is when the child actually transpires, and comes to life. Christmas is when Christ becomes real to you: His presence, His call.
How can we tell that Christ has come? One concrete test is suggested by Isaiah and Matthew: You can tell that the Savior has come if the eyes of the blind are opened, and the ears of the deaf are cleared. If the lame leap like stags, and the dead are raised to life, and the poor have the good news preached to them.
I am suggesting that your Savior may come to light, may transpire, if your faith is accompanied by good works. You need not fly to third world countries to find the oppressed and burdened and the brokenhearted. They surround you at school, at work, where you play, or where you pray. Bring food and drink, bring life and light, bring love and bring good news. Bring yourself to those whose hearts or bodies are burdened, and you will bring Christ to them. And, paradoxically, come closer to Him yourself. Coming to life in them, He may come more to light for you.
Let’s all ask ourselves a question: does your faith life reveal to anyone that Christ’s kingdom is in the making? Does anyone see in you the one who is to come? Or must everyone who touches you wait for another?