On one of our first trips to the United States, Fr John and myself were working in a summer camp run by the Salesians. On our first day we asked the young people we were working with to queue up. They stared at us blankly. They had no clue what we were talking about. Soon we were to learn about the trunk of the car as opposed to the boot, that the lift is the escalator but on that given day the group of children in our charge looked at us and then each other as we repeated again that they should queue up. Just then a young girl said to the assembled group ‘they want us to get in line and wait!’ This was exactly what we wanted. Now whilst there was some confusion between a queue and a line, there was none about waiting.
It seems that the world over we know what it is to wait. We wait on many occasions during our lives. Our waiting can be as simple as waiting for the bus, or for the shower of rain to ease off, or our waiting can be as profound as waiting to be born, or to waiting to die. We even have waiting rooms and waiting times! Indeed there are even some places that proclaim, no waiting permitted. For each one of us waiting is a large part of our lives. Apart from fairly minor waiting, that we might term idle waiting, there is also significant or purposeful waiting. These are the times when our waiting is waiting for something, or someone important in our lives. We think of the times when we waited anxiously: test results, the news of a loved one or times when we waited with excitement: the birth of a new baby or an exam passed.
Today we think of a different type of waiting because we begin our Advent journey. On occasions such as today, the First Sunday in Advent, it is good to remind ourselves of some basic things about our faith. Easter and Christmas are the two highlights, the two big events, in the year, the birth of Jesus as a little baby in the crib, and the death and resurrection of Jesus. Beside both of these key moments, in the lives of people of faith, are the two periods of preparation. Before Easter we have the period of Lent, and today we begin our special period of preparation for Christmas, Advent. The key theme of Advent is waiting. However it is a very particular kind of waiting.
In Advent we wait. However we do not wait alone. We wait as a community, as a community of faith. We know why we are waiting, and in this waiting for Jesus, our waiting is both joyful and active. The anticipation that is a key part of Advent is about joy. Advent is full of hope. Advent reminds us that in an ever anxious, and torn world Jesus is our hope, our joy and our peace. As well as this beautiful season being packed with wonder-filled waiting it is a time of active preparation. The reason why Advent waiting is not idle is precisely because it is Jesus that we are waiting on. The focus of Advent is Jesus. Naturally then because we wait on the birth of Jesus we wish to get ready. We could at this point make a firm commitment this year to put some thought and effort into getting ready. Most of us get taken up in all sorts of preparations: a list of those we will get presents for, a real tree or an artificial one, ordering the turkey and so on. However if we are serious about our faith we may need to ask questions about confession, the place of the crib in the house, the Christmas cards we will send, what Christmas Mass will I take part in? Will I make time for the Christmas Carol service? As committed followers of Jesus, we might check on how Christmas will be for others, especially those for whom it might be a particularly lonely time of year. I suppose a lot of this could be summarised in making a promise to the Lord and indeed to ourselves that this year we will take Advent seriously. This year we will not just let Advent come and go. This year we will make Advent a reality in our lives. So we will turn back to the Lord in a new way. We will use the beautiful season of Advent as a period of preparation for the birth of Jesus.
Finally a word on a very important aspect of Advent, though often neglected, that of wonder. Advent wonder. Whilst it is right to be committed to the active, getting ready aspects of our Advent journey it would be a pity if we lost our ability to wonder. To ponder. To stop and stand and stare. As noted earlier our Advent waiting is not undertaken alone but is done in the context of us as a faith community. Of course crucial to our Advent journey is Mary and Joseph. They are busy getting ready, they must travel to Bethlehem. However they are not too busy. Particularly in the case of Mary we see a clear contemplative stance. Let’s join Mary in the lovely silence of Advent. Mary waits in hope. Mary in Jesus brings joy to the world. It is in Jesus that true peace for the world is found.