Monday, December 01, 2008

Is patience still waiting?

Advent is a time of waiting. Much as the penitential season of Lent serves to prepare the hearts of Christians for the joy of Easter, Advent helps us to prepare for the momentous event that we celebrate on Christmas. The liturgical readings and rituals of the Advent Season are meant to foster an attitude of eager anticipation, giving us a felt sense of the joy with which we should greet the Son of God who shared in our humanity so that we might share in his divinity. As the Gospel reading for the First Sunday of Advent reminds us, we must be watchful and alert for we "do not know when the Lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning."

For many Christians, I suspect, the anticipation and watchfulness of Advent are understood but not really felt. Pressed to affirm our belief in the second coming, many of us may be forced to admit (to God, if not to our fellow Christians) that we don't really expect Christ to return any time soon. If we actually had such an expectation, many of us would probably opt to live out our Christian commitment in radically different ways. Indeed, it seems safe to say that the history of Christianity would be far different if the Church had steadfastly maintained its early belief in Christ's imminent and glorious return. In a very real sense, the Church has found its identity in the struggle to articulate what it means to be faithful in a world that Christ may not return to for a very long time.

Advent is a time of anticipation, but it is also a time for patience. As we await the arrival of the God who promised to come among us, we may search in vain for signs of his imminent return. The reign of God may seem very far away as we ponder events like the recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai or the ongoing economic crisis. In times like these, we are called to wait patiently in the confidence that Christ will come at a time we cannot predict. This patience is a complement to the watchfulness urged by Sunday's Gospel. As we make ourselves ready to greet the Lord, we must also prepare ourselves for what may be a very long wait.

Waiting patiently for the joy that we celebrate at Christmas isn't always easy. For many people, the month of December is a time of great impatience - children watch wrapped gifts pile up under the Christmas tree and count down the days until they can tear them open, while many adults eagerly anticipate the break from work and the opportunity to spend time with family that this holiday season provides. On a spiritual level, we can easily grow impatient with the task of preparing ourselves for the Feast of the Nativity. As we enter into the Season of Advent, we would do well to pray for a greater sense of patience and hope as we anticipate the coming of the Lord. Let us make our own the words of the timeless hymn:

Veni, veni Emmanuel!
Captivum soli Israel!
Qui gemit in exilio,
Privatus Dei Filio.
Gaude, gaude, Emmanuel
Nascetur pro te, Israel.

O come, o come Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

My prayers are with all readers in this Season of Advent. AMDG.

4 Comments:

At 12/02/2008 7:36 PM, Blogger Michelle said...

So, is patience the same as "still waiting"? I read this title three different ways...all helpful in thinking about "patience" in the context of Advent.

I'm struggling with patience -- both in my own life and with a draft of a column (due tomorrow!) on patience!! So thank you for a broader perspective on patience...

I'm practicing patience, waiting for inspiration! Veni Sanctu Spiritu?

 
At 12/02/2008 7:43 PM, Blogger Joe said...

Michelle,

You're right that the title can be interpreted a number of ways, which is what I was going for. My direct inspiration for the title was a song of the same name by a band called The Juliana Theory. The song has been stuck in my head a lot lately, and I think it's influenced my experience of Advent so far.

Good luck with the column - I've been working on that promised post on detachment, which I hope will be up sometime this week. Pax,

Joe

 
At 12/02/2008 11:16 PM, Blogger Michelle said...

Joe,

I look forward to the detachment post! I hope all goes well for your end of term, too.

The column is done - the difference between blogging (or writing for academic journals) and being a regular columnist is that immutable weekly deadline!

Michelle

p.s. iTunes served up "Is patience still waiting" for me to listen to...

 
At 12/03/2008 8:33 AM, Blogger beth said...

I love the way the days are darkening during Advent, giving me the sense that something is happening even though I can't see it. A descending (deeper into myself?). A waiting, like a pregnancy.

I love the quietness of this time of year as well, as long as I can insulate myself from commercial hoopla.

Just the words "God is with you" seem to bring hope and even joy to the waiting.

But what I like, especially, are the Angel's words: DO NOT BE AFRAID.

 

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