Advent is a season of waiting. In our everyday lives, we wait for many things, both mundane and profound. We wait for the bus, we wait for the sunrise, we wait for test results. We wait for things to begin and things to end. For 9 months, we wait for children to be born. We wait for peace and healing.
Waiting can be passive and interminable and we are impatient for it to be over. Isaiah implores God to “rend the heavens and come down!” The psalmist cries, “O shepherd of Israel, hearken. Rouse your power and come to save us!” We yearn for the waiting to be over, and we turn to the Creator to beg for that to happen. But passive waiting, waiting for someone else to make things happen, doesn’t seem like Advent waiting. The servants left in charge by the man traveling abroad in Jesus’ story aren’t just idle and standing around. They are left EACH WITH THEIR OWN WORK. That doesn’t sound like passive waiting. Nobody gets off the hook and it would not be good to be caught sleeping when the lord of the house returns. “What I say to you, I say to all”, says Jesus. “Be watchful! Be alert! Watch!”
At the closing of the first Synod Assembly on Communion, Participation and Mission at the Vatican in October, Dominican Fr. Timothy Radcliffe described the 11 months until the second session of the Synod next October as “like a pregnancy. We, my brothers and sisters, are pregnant with new life and these 11 months will probably be the most fertile time of the whole synod, the time of germination.”
But that germination cannot happen without nurturing, tending and yes, waiting. What Fr. Radcliffe calls “active waiting”. There’s nothing passive about the waiting in pregnancy. Bringing a new life into the world is full of active waiting and preparation, not just for the mother, but for all those around her. We all wait together and we have been given gifts to help us in the waiting, Paul tells us, gifts that will keep us “firm to the end and irreproachable”. We have what we need to stay alert and watchful while we wait.
Advent is also a season of hope.
Following the global Synod, great hope was generated that the Church would come alive in a new way, would find a way to welcome those from the margins, would create ways to heal harm, would open up leadership roles for women, would envision the restoration of women to the permanent diaconate.
Not to downplay the concerns voiced, but the listening sessions in Seattle also expressed hope that parish consolidation could result in stronger, more vibrant communities. When we are doing the work of building the kingdom and hope is strong, the waiting is bearable; it’s active waiting full of hope in the coming of the Savior.
We know, though, that there are plenty of tensions in the world and in our church today to cause that hope to wane, that allows discouragement and despair to creep into our hearts. If THAT takes hold, it quickly becomes contagious, spreading easily and destroying hope. It fragments the work we are trying to do together. It weakens our ability to stay focused on the coming of the Lord.
How do we guard against that? By remembering Isaiah’s proclamation: No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you / doing such deeds for those who wait for God. Advent hope is full of confidence, confidence that God’s power WILL be roused, roused to send Jesus. So, the question is, will we be awake and alert when Jesus comes? What will Jesus see in the work the servants left in charge have done TOGETHER in this active waiting period? Earlier, I spoke of waiting for beginnings and endings. Will our work help restore women to the permanent diaconate? Will our work result in a vibrant, new canonical parish? Will our work advance peace and healing in the world?
The waiting and hoping of Advent require straining to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit, to listen for Her wisdom and guidance. It requires being watchful for God’s presence in both the mundane and the profound moments of our lives. If we do this together, we will not be caught sleeping when the Lord comes.