Once the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade is over many North Americans seem to think that the Christmas Season is upon us. Certainly the advertising world is in full gear with ads for diamonds, toys, new cars and much more. Liturgically speaking the first week of December this year is the beginning of a new church year. It is also the beginning of a short liturgical season: Advent.
Advent reminds us of Jesus' first coming in history. Pope Benedict XVI's latest book "Jesus of Nazareth the Infancy Narratives" delves into this coming or advent of Jesus. I have already read much of this little volume. I recommend it for mediation and reflection during this season.
Pope Benedict's new book is a handy $20.00. It makes an attractive Christmas gift! See our website for easy access to our center: www.pauline.org
Advent, we know is not Lent in the middle of winter. No, even though the priests wear purple vestments, it is entirely different as a time of joyful expectancy.
The gospel many times tells us to focus our attention on children and to “become as little children.” This of course means as little children, not childish. A child’s sense of expectation brings him or her great enthusiasm.
John Updike is quoted as saying, “Be careful of people who are not on friendly terms with children.”
Those of you who have children, grand children or little nieces and nephews have experienced this kind of expectancy. When my grandmother came over to our house, we always had a sense of expectancy to see if grandma had any special goodies for us. When my brother-in-law would return from a long business trip, my niece would look up eagerly to see her special gift from Daddy’s trip.
All of us probably experienced this same kind of longing, and eager awaiting when we expected Santa Claus to come down our chimney and bring us our skates or wagon or sled, or whatever else we dreamed of. Today ipads, and smart phones, and digital gadgets of all sorts may replace dreams of skates and candy!
Our dreams make us expectant. They make us enthusiastic, often they fill us with energy. A priest told us that as a little boy, he couldn’t sleep because he was so excited that Santa was coming. How many times have we tried to sleep, but couldn’t because we were filled with a sort of energy on the prospect of meeting someone special, or getting a new job, etc.
When there is no “expectancy”, enthusiasm withers. In a homily a chaplain gave us an example of withered enthusiasm in a marriage. He had dinner with a couple who had been married about 15 years. As the evening progressed, the wife announced, “I’m going to bed, since there’s nothing to stay up for....”. Apparently the couple had lost their enthusiasm for one another, to the point where the wife ignored her guest too.
We need to awaken in ourselves the necessity of expectancy, of “waiting on” the Lord’s coming. One theologian said we desperately need Advent. Why? Because people aren’t expecting much of anything. They may be bored, or sated with life’s good things, and they are clueless about something much better – life on high with Christ—waiting for them.
Advent is a time when we look back at the prophets who told us to be watchful and ready for the coming of the Lord. Prophets kept the people of God expectant for the right person. Sometimes, the Israelites, the Chosen People, became complacent and lost in the gods around them--in the pursuit of earthly pleasures.
We come from a long line of expectant pilgrims. Abraham “waited” on God to fulfill his promise of an heir. Abraham’s descendants were reminded over and over again by the prophets to look for God, and wait on him (wait for Him).
The Bible calls the simple, lowly people who longed for, and expected the Messiah, the anawim. The gospels tell us of the anawim who waited for the Savior: Anna, the prophetess; Simeon whose Nunc Demittis (now Lord, you can let your servant go in peace) is said every night in the Office; Zacharia; Elizabeth; John the Baptist, and last of all, but not least--Mary, the Virgin Mother of Jesus.
The prayer we use in the Liturgy after the Our Father says, they “lived in joyful hope”, waiting for the Holy One of Israel. These people, the anawim, had their trust in God--not in worldly leaders or politicians. They were not asleep to the Lord.
People with diminished expectations are asleep, or sluggish. People who long deeply for the Lord are not asleep. During the rest of this first week of Advent, we can raise our expectations. We are awaiting God to break into our lives. He comes to us every day in disguise. One day he will come and bring us to his holy presence. We want to be ready to meet him both in disguise and face-to-face!