Bishop Dermot Farrell
There are many ways to wait. We know many people today who are waiting for the arrival of a better world. There are those who are waiting for the result of a Covid test. Some are waiting for their quarantine period to end. Most are eagerly waiting for a Covid-19 vaccine. Others with cancer, or life-threatening diseases, are waiting to depart this life. Yet others are waiting to see if they will get their job back when the economy recovers. On the other hand, the farmer who sows a winter crop must wait patiently throughout the Spring and Summer for the grain to ripen at harvest time. And a woman expecting the birth of her child waits in a vastly different way to any of these: for her it is a time of great longing, a time of hope. Her time of waiting and hoping is realised in the birth of the child and there is great rejoicing. Life teaches the farmer or the expectant parent how to wait. The life of faith also teaches us how to wait: to wait in joyful hope for the coming of Christ, for the coming of God, for the fulfilment of life. Advent—from the Latin for ‘arrival’—is the time the Church remembers and celebrates that our God comes to us: in the Lord Jesus, in the events of our lives, in the silence of our hearts, and beyond this life—when we see the Lord face-to-face.
The God Who Comes—Every Day
Every year for four weeks leading to Christmas the Church celebrates the season of Advent: a time set aside to draw us into the mystery of Jesus’ coming in the flesh at Bethlehem, and the mystery of his coming at the end of time. However, there is a quiet third coming of Jesus. It is a time when we learn to perceive anew the Lord’s silent coming into our lives and into our world every day. As well as drawing us into the mystery of Christ and putting before us the coming of God at the end of time, Advent alerts us to the presence of Christ who never left us. In these Advent days we look for the signs of where and how God moves in the common occurrences of every day. This is the human face of God whose Kingdom “is present wherever he is loved and wherever his love reaches us” (Spe salvi, 31). This is the God who offers a hope we cannot attain by ourselves. Being attentive to this day-by-day coming of God, we become, like Jesus, bearers of hope for those who find themselves wandering in the desert of disappointment and disillusion.
Stay Awake...Stand Ready For His Arrival
When we pray on a regular basis, we become more and more attentive to the day-by-day coming of God. Our waiting for God in prayer reminds us that we ourselves, including all that we strive to achieve, are not the centre of the universe. The current health crisis has brought home to us the limits of our own abilities. It has reminded us that the perception we built of our modern society—more wealth, better health, longer life, bigger homes, unlimited worldwide travel—is a house built on sand. The effects of the pandemic that we are living though dramatically reminds us we have been standing on ground that can wash away beneath our feet. For many people, this year has been a type of wilderness experience, especially during the lockdowns. But being in the wilderness is also finding ourselves in a place where we have to discover what is essential, where the irrelevant is stripped away and the vital becomes apparent, where the truth in our hearts is revealed. We have the possibility of choosing what is really important, what makes a difference to us and to others.
In prayer our attention is turned “away from ourselves, and towards those who have been entrusted to our love and practical care: family, friends, community, and especially those who lack the blessings we have been given so abundantly” (Columba Stewart, OSB).
In prayer our attention is also turned away from ourselves and towards God. In prayer God’s life springs up in us anew. If we attune to God through prayer, God will truly transform our lives and show us how we are to live them well. Prayer is hope in action, and hope that is about more than just getting into Heaven. As Pope Benedict XVI succinctly puts it, prayer is a school of hope which teaches those who pray to hope in a goodness and a power that transcends their own capabilities.
Real hope, then, is rooted in a faith and trust in God’s promise even when life is difficult. “Faith is not a light which scatters all our darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey... God does not provide arguments which explain everything; rather, his response is that of an accompanying presence, a history of goodness which touches every story of suffering and opens up a ray of light” (Lumen fidei, 57). Faith shows us a God who always accompanies us; God is the source of our trustworthy hope.
Advent—in its prayer and liturgy – brings us along the path of faith, waiting in quiet hope and joyful expectation for the One who can change and transform our lives.
In Advent we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Saviour. Born at Bethlehem, Christ never leaves us. In the resurrection Christ is always with us (see Matt 1:23). The risen Christ is the Christ of Bethlehem today! The Feast of Christmas calls us to become more aware of his presence. Christ is present to us not only in Word and Sacrament, but also in the people who surround us. He comes to us in those who are afraid, in those who are isolated and lonely. It was Christ himself who said to us that “I was hungry and you gave me food...” (Matt 25:35-40). The Christ-child lying in a manger is but the beginning of the story.
In the face of all the anguish of the last nine months, we see heroism and patience and understanding; we see honesty and the unselfish service of others; we see genuine holiness and fidelity.
There are people in the world, in the Church, in our schools, in our estates and in our families who are committed to the care of the sick and elderly. Such lives, marked by a striving to minister to the sick and the dying and to the little ones, testify that Christ and his Kingdom are close to us, and that the Lord has not abandoned his people.
In these days of Advent may we never cease to pray that his Kingdom may come, that justice and mercy be done. Come, Lord Jesus! Maranatha! Do not delay!