Expectant Love vs. Hyper-Vigilant Fear

Today is the First Sunday in Advent. In today’s Gospel from St. Mark Jesus tells his disciples to be watchful and alert because they do not know “when the Lord of the house is coming.”

Kayla McClurg’s commentary on this passage seems to me a perfect entry into the waiting we experience in Advent. She writes

How differently we experience different kinds of waiting. Awaiting the return of a loved one, or a longed-for new beginning, or a world that works better for everyone, these we can imagine with anticipation and heartfelt longing. Come, Lord Jesus! Quite different they are from the scratching anxiety that comes from dreading what lies ahead—impending surgery, a broken heart, the recognition of failure. Dread sometimes gets attached to Jesus. Fear of ourselves leads us to fear him, and to fear the ‘new day’ he heralds. We keep watch for his return, not because he is our saving grace, the love of our life, but because we dread his disappointment. Hovering in some of us is the fear that it might never be possible to live up to the standard of his love.

The tension between expectant love and hyper-vigilant fear can imprison us in a dark cell of doubt. Oh, we learn to wear a variety of masks, to pretend that all is well with our souls, while the torture squad within stretches us tight between fear and love. Just naming it aloud can be enough to propel us toward liberation. None of us wants to be afraid, chooses it as a life goal, yet we often turn from the bracing wind of our own awakening. We are not alone. Jesus says, the tree bears its fruit, and the watchman keeps watch. We, too, can admit to each other who we are. The fruit of our true selves even yet can emerge. We sleepers can awake. Even our anxieties about Jesus can be brought into the light and catapult us into new life.

Today, with “anticipation and heartfelt longing”, we pray Come, Lord Jesus! Come!

Advent Again

Advent is here. Again.

You might ask, “Why do we need Advent again? Why do we have to keep doing this over and over again?” Jesus already came – why do we need to prepare for His coming each year?

A song we sometimes sing in Mass during the Advent season (and at other times) – God of Day and God of Darkness – helps answer that question. Jesus came – He walked on this earth, he died and he rose, but

Still the nations curse the darkness,
Still the rich oppress the poor;
Still the earth is bruised and broken
By the ones who still want more.

Advent is here again because we desperately need it. Our world desperately needs it.

We need this period of waiting and preparing. Unlike those waiting for the birth of Jesus over two thousand years ago, for us the outcome of Advent is not a surprise. We go into Advent knowing the plot – we know Jesus Christ will be born. Indeed, we know the whole plot – we know that God will become human, live among us, die and then rise. So we wait each year for something we know is coming – the coming of Christmas, and our recelebration of the birth of Christ and all that we know follows from that.

But we don’t just wait. We prepare ourselves. Advent offers us a chance to assess our spiritual condition, to be sure we are ready to welcome Christ into our hearts and homes. It allows us to deepen our acceptance of God’s working through us to prepare for Christ’s reign.

And so as we begin Advent, we might reflect on: What will I do during this Advent to give reality to the rule of Immanuel? How will I help birth Christ into the world?

In the Morning You Will See the Glory of the Lord

“Are we there yet?” “Is it time yet?”

As we do each year, we spend four weeks preparing ourselves for Christmas. We wait in joyful hope, we actively prepare to welcome (anew) the Christ into our hearts and homes. We pray, we tell the stories of our ancestors, we take stock, we recommit ourselves.

And now, our time of waiting in joyful hope is almost at an end. The preparations have been made and, ready or not, the time is almost here. In the words of Exodus, “In the morning you will see the glory of the Lord.”

As we wrap the last of the Christmas presents, send off those last cards, pack for holiday visits, and prepare the feast we will share with family and friends, let us continue to rejoice that our God comes and to reflect on how we may bring the good news of God’s presence and love to others.

Happy Christmas Eve!

Waiting for More than a Little While

Virtually everyone who is a parent has had the experience of taking a car trip with their family and hearing, seeminginly endlessly, from the backseat of the car, “Are we almost there yet?” The first asking of the question can occcur as little as ten or fifteen minutes after leaving the house and can be asked with astonishing (and, admit it, irritating) frequency, yielding such responses as “we’ll be there in five minutes less time than the last time you asked.”

In today’s first Mass reading from the Book of Isaiah, God says, “But a very little while, and…the deaf shall hear the words of a book; and out of gloom and darkness, th eyes of the blind shall see. The lowly will every find joy in the Lord, and the poor rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.” “A very little while”, God promised. Hmm. The Book of Isaiah was written about 700 years before the birth of Christ. One can only imagine how many times over the months…the years…the decades, the people asked, “Is it almost here yet? Are the blind going to see soon?” A “very little while” turned out to be a lot of years.

Likewise, Jesus promised his followers that he would come again. And although he didn’t tell them it would be in a very little while, some of the things he said to them led them to think that the Second Coming would occur during their lifetimes. So you can imagine them too asking each other, “Is He coming soon? Will he be here in a little while?”

However one measures it – even granting that our idea of time and God’s are not quite the same, more than a little while has past and we are still waiting. In the words of one of the Mass Prefaces for Advent, “we watch for the day, hoping that the salvation promised us will be ours when Christ our Lord will come again in his glory.” And, although I understand that some are predicting the Jesus will arrive on Mary 21, 2011, the truth is the we do not know the day or hour of His coming.

And so we watch and we wait – not only during this Advent season, but every day. Our waiting, though, is an active waiting, not a passive one. We don’t just sit in the back seat of the car asking, “Is we there yet?” Instead, we work, each in our own way, to birth Christ into the world, to leaven the world with God’s presence. And if we take that charge seriously, we won’t really have time to worry about when Christ is coming. We’ll be ready whenever He comes.

One Day More

Christmas Eve – a sign that the time of waiting is almost at an end. One day more until we again celebrate the coming of the Christ.

Is the waiting easier or harder now that it is coming to an end? Many are still buying last minute gifts, or purchasing the makings of the big family feast. (Alas, with the deaths over the years of the older of my relatives, our Christmas Eve dinner no longer includes the seven fishes.) Many are sitting in airports waiting for flights to take them home to family and friends. Many are at work, stealing glances at their watches, wondering if the workday will ever end.

But hopefully in all of the hustle and bustle of this day, we stop and take a breath, and remember for what and whom it is we are waiting. The Son of God, in the words of Galatians, “born of a woman, born under the law, so that we might receive adoption.”

So carry on with the shopping, and the food preparation and the travel and the hustle and bustle. But pause now and then, and remember with joy and gladness that our wait is almost at an end.