Brief synopsis of the readings: In our first reading from the prophet Jeremiah God promised to fulfill the promise made to the House of Israel and the House of Judah. Jeremiah described how God “will make a virtuous Branch grow from David” This Branch will rule in honesty and integrity in the land. “And this is the name the city will be called: The Lord-our-integrity.” In Luke’s Gospel Jesus spoke to his disciples: “There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars” and “men dying of fear as they await the menaces the world, for the powers of heaven will be shaken.” He told his disciples not to be distracted by debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life. Finally he instructed them to stand with confidence.
Welcome to Advent! For you (us) liturgical nerds this means we are beginning the new liturgical years as we prepare for Christmas.
And let’s face it: many of us face this season with at least some anxiety. While we’re being told that the four weeks before Christmas should be a time of reflection and awaiting, we know we’re going to spend much of this time navigating rapids of holiday parties, pressure to find the perfect gift, feeling the need to bake insane amounts of cookies and pies, and, well you get the point. By the time Christmas arrives many of us feel a combination of exhaustion and guilt (and maybe even a little relief that it’s over).
Given all this pressure, the idea of waiting seems positively insane. We hate waiting because we’re told it is a waste of time. How many times have we attempted a call to customer “service” only to be put on hold and given our estimated wait time? How often are we encouraged to download an app where we can order a meal and avoid having to wait for it when we arrive? How many times have we attended a meeting where our agency attempts to cut wait times?
Simply put we value efficiency and productivity over nearly anything else. During my career in hospice I found myself growing increasingly frustrated with the move away from patient care and toward productivity. I was completely unsuccessful in my attempt to explain that being present to a patient or family sometimes doesn’t translate into peak efficiency.
I was once asked to perform a wedding in a hospital room between a patient and her boyfriend. She was in bad shape and we didn’t expect her to live more than a day or two; she didn’t care about being married in the eyes of the state and only wanted to be married in the eyes of God. Problem was that she wanted a traditional wedding dress and her sister was caught in traffic on her way to the bring it to her. I made the decision to wait the hour for her sister to arrive.
The good news was that her sister did arrive, I was able to perform the wedding, and she spent the last day of her life glowing and telling all the nurses how happy she was to be married. She also loved the fact that the put a “Just Married” sign on her hospital room door.
In many ways that gave me an insight into Advent. While we (her fiance, her parents, her best friend, an entire floor of doctors, nurses, aides, and housekeepers) waited for her sister we talked about how much we looked forward to the wedding. At this point in her life this was the most important part of her life. When her sister finally arrived she changed into her wedding dress and got married in a time much less than the time we spent waiting.
One on hand that hour wasn’t very productive. Nothing we did changed either her diagnosis or the length of her life. But that hour we spent waiting was holy time.
Please understand I’m not trying to give one more thing to do for Advent. I was greatly amused one year when a parishioner told me that he was putting “self care” on his list of things he needed to in the new year.
Adding to our “to do” list will likely make things more difficult rather than less.
So let’s make Advent 2021 something less rather than something more. How do we do this? Well, I have a few suggestions:
Give up on the idea of perfection. The people who really love us will continue to love us even if our gift isn’t perfect. A “Chia Pet” may well plant the seeds (no pun intended) for a great story in the years to come and become a valued memory. Not everything has to be the Hope Diamond.
Be present. Gatherings often involve “the usual suspects” but oftentimes we have the opportunity to meet someone for the first time. Maybe it’s the new boyfriend/girlfriend of one of our family members. Make a point of engaging someone whose nervousness is obvious. That’s no guarantee of the future but at leas that person will remember you with gratitude.
Don’t forget the poor. Every year we’re bombarded with the reality that some of us don’t have a meal or a place to go. Evaluate your budget and consider sharing your blessings, not only now, but throughout the year. Those who suffer at Christmas also suffer all year.
And finally, let’s think about Advent as not only the four weeks before Christmas, but year round. As Christians we no longer await the Redeemer because he came to us long ago in a feeding trough in Bethlehem. But we still await the Kingdom that began with his birth.
The Kingdom isn’t done. Jesus didn’t come to gift us with the Kingdom of God: he came to invite us to build it with him. Advent reminds us that, much like the time I waited for the wedding dress, we are all called to spend that time doing what we can and recognizing that the end is going to be spectacular.