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The Catholic Moment: Advent is all about the wait

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

By Scott Mussari

Very few of us actually enjoy waiting. In today’s instant credit approval, instant coffee, instant karma lifestyle, we have become accustomed to getting what we want when we want it. We have neither the time nor the inclination to wait for anything.  We demand fast food, express mail and high-speed internet.

Waiting is regarded as worthless and pointless and therefore ought to be avoided in lieu of more important endeavors. This sentiment was expressed rhythmically by the late Dr. Seuss who described “the waiting place as a most useless place,” and musically by the great Tom Petty who crooned that “the waiting is the hardest part.”

Yet the church subscribes to a countercultural message that values waiting. She gives us the gift of Advent and invites us to openly embrace and deeply contemplate waiting during these four weeks. This leads us to the question: What exactly are we waiting for during Advent?

The answer is partially revealed in the translation of the word itself. Advent is Latin and literally means arrival or coming. During this season, we are waiting for the arrival of Jesus.

The most obvious appearance of Jesus that we wait for is the one of history. We look to the past to remember and rejoice in the birth of our Savior. Our Nativity displays convey the scene of our Lord’s arrival as an infant, and the readings of Mass for the fourth Sunday of Advent focus on this first coming of Jesus.

As we wait for His entrance into our world, we are challenged to ponder how openly we have prepared ourselves. Have we truly contemplated the angel proclaiming the message of glory, or have we become too consumed with getting through writing messages in our Christmas cards? Have we pondered the meaning of our Messiah’s humanity in being wrapped in cloths for necessity, or have we allowed ourselves to become distracted by the trappings of wrapping presents of luxury?

The next Jesus we are waiting for is the one of the present. The readings of the third Sunday highlight Him in the here and now. Just as the infant has grown and matured physically, we consider how Christ’s presence has expanded spiritually in our own lives.

We are encouraged to examine His existence in our everyday through our participation in prayer and sacrament. For has our relationship with the Lord significantly developed and deepened since last Advent? Have we put forth the same effort and energy to know Christ as we have to know about our sports teams, our television shows and our careers?

The third manifestation of Jesus we wait for is the mystery of the future. We believe that Christ will come again at the end of time. The readings of both the first and second Sundays of Advent center on this belief of our faith.

In fact, during Mass throughout the entire year we proudly proclaim Jesus’ return in our responses:  “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again;” “He will come again to judge the living and the dead;” “As we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior.” Yet are we really readying ourselves for Christ to return? Do we often think of the Messiah revisiting, and think about what He will say to us when He does?

Advent is a time to wait for these arrivals of Jesus and ideally, to wait in joyous preparation. One way to assist in viewing this time period from this perspective is to refrain from the temptation to look beyond Advent to gaze solely at Christmas.  Advent marks the beginning of a new liturgical year and another liturgical season.  May all of us be given the grace to immerse ourselves in the waiting of Advent, to more thoroughly anticipate and more fully appreciate the one we are waiting for.

Scott Mussari is the director of faith formation at St. Columban Church in Loveland and can be reached at [email protected].

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