These few weeks before Christmas have a unique flavor for most of us. They are unlike any other weeks of the year in many ways. For some it is a time for “making merry” marked by frequent gatherings with family and friends, listening to cheerful songs, eating rich foods, and exchanging gifts. For others it can be a time of stress, financial strain, busyness, and profound loneliness.

In our distinctive counter-cultural fashion, we Christians speak of this season of “Advent” as a time of joyful waiting. The Latin root of the word “advent” means “to come or arrive.” The people of Israel from which we hail, and whose sacred scriptures we read at Mass each week, were very familiar with the concept of waiting. At the time of Jesus’ birth, they had been waiting centuries for their promised Messiah; a hopeful expectation that is so pronounced in our Jewish ancestral roots.

Spiritual teacher, Henri Nouwen observes that most people consider waiting a waste of time because the culture in which we live seems to always be saying, “Get going! Do something!” He recognizes that for many people, waiting is an uncomfortable place between where they are and where they want to go. We want the future to go in a very specific direction, and if this does not happen, we are disappointed and can even slip into despair. Waiting seems like a passive, hopeless state determined by events totally out of our hands.

Waiting is even more difficult because we are all so fearful these days; afraid of the unrest that characterizes our times (with which we are bombarded with every time we glance at our social media or turn on a 24-hour news channel – because bad news sells) and the anxiety that stems from this disquiet. We are fearful of one another and of our future, and people who are fearful have a hard time waiting, because when we are afraid, we feel the urge to flee or fight. Many of our destructive acts come from the fear that something harmful will be done to us; not only individuals but whole communities and nations. People who live in a world of fear are more likely to make aggressive, hostile, destructive responses than people who are not so frightened. The more afraid we are, the harder waiting becomes.

This makes it all the more notable that the whole opening scene leading up to Jesus’ birth is chock-full of waiting people; Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Simeon and Anna – and each of these bearers of the good news in some way or another hear the biblically ubiquitous words, “Do not be afraid, I have something good to say to you” and each has received a promise that allows them to wait. They have recognized and received something that is at work in them, like a seed that has started to grow. Nouwen says “We can only really wait if we believe that what we are waiting for has already begun for us. We must recognize that what we are waiting for is growing from the ground on which we stand today.” The secret of waiting is the faith that the seed has been planted, that something beautiful and beyond our imagining has begun. Joyful waiting is the willingness to stay present fully to the moment, in the conviction that something is happening; remaining patient, open and trusting that God is at work, oft times despite appearances.

To wait open-endedly, letting God define our life, trusting that God molds us according to God’s love and not according to our fear is an enormously radical attitude toward life in a world preoccupied with control.

So, this holy season of Advent, shall we wait hopefully together?

One of our own Detroit priests done good. Blessed Fr. Solanus is on his way to sainthood. If you’ve never visited the center, here in Detroit, it is beautiful and fascinating. https://www.solanuscenter.org/about-us/get-to-know-fr-solanus

Some of this reflection is based on “A Spirituality of Waiting,” audio presentation of Henri Nouwen, Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame, IN (Nouwen identifies two aspects of waiting: the waiting FOR God, and the waiting OF God. Something to ponder…)

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