Can you remember the excitement of being a child waiting for Christmas? The days of December seemed to drag on forever. There were Christmas pageants to prepare for and activities at school to fill the days. Letters to Santa had to be written. Anticipation built daily with dreams of what presents might be under the tree. The boxes on the Advent calendar were oh so slowly opened! Finally, the magical day arrived.
As adults, the anticipation is not always so great. We often approach the holidays with a little bit of dread. There is so much to be done – decorations to be hung, presents to be bought, meals to be prepared, wrapping to be completed, obligatory parties to attend, out-of-town guests to welcome into our homes, Christmas pageants to make costumes for, and the list goes on. It is exhausting even to think about! As women, the task of making the holidays merry seems to fall to us. Sometimes, the only waiting for Christmas we take part in is waiting for it to be over so that life can return to some degree of normal in January.
Yet the Advent period, the four weeks preceding Christmas, is meant to be a time of holy waiting. The word “Advent” comes from the Latin “adventus” which means “coming.” It has been set aside as a time for interior preparation for Christmas since the sixth century. The first Advent took place in the hearts of Mary and Joseph, and all the Jewish people who longed for a Messiah. The original Advent involved waiting for a child to be born. One cannot rush a child’s birth, nor would one want to. It takes a full nine months to create a healthy baby. As much as a pregnant woman may want her pregnancy to be over after six or seven months, she knows that it takes that full term for God’s creative work to be done within her. In Advent, we both celebrate the coming of the Christ child all those years ago, and anticipate the second coming of Christ at the end of time. We are still waiting.
Amidst all the hustle and bustle, it is perhaps unrealistic to expect Advent to afford the same opportunity for reflection and personal self-improvement that the corresponding season of Lent does. It is appropriate, however, during this time of “holy waiting” in the Church year, to acknowledge the spiritual value of waiting. Life does not always unfold on our terms but on God’s. We pray and sometimes wait years for answers. In those times of our lives, we are engaged in “advents” of our own. We wait for a change in circumstances, for love to come, for a child to be born, for our creative spirit to spring forth, for any number of realities to emerge. Ultimately, we wait for death and the opportunity to be reunited with God.
Waiting, although often difficult, has the potential for transformation within us. Holy waiting has a value all its own. If Christmas just appeared any day that a child wished for it, the day would soon lose its value. The fact that it comes only once a year makes the event all the more special. The waiting can indeed be pleasant and filled with good things as well. As we embrace our own “advents,” may we reclaim some of that youthful enthusiasm of the child within us and hold dear to the gracious gifts God provides.