This reflection was written by current volunteer Rachel Mustain. Rachel serves in San Francisco, California, in the Corporate Work Study Program office at Immaculate Conception Academy, a Cristo Rey high school sponsored by the Mission San Jose Dominicans.
Advent is the season of waiting. These four weeks are a season of waiting for the feast of Christmas. The waiting can be eager anticipation for Christmas day, budding excitement in the traditions of putting up lights, decorating a tree, and guessing what presents this year will bring or it can be waiting with groaning and frustration that there are still more than two weeks before we have a break from school. Either way, we wait.
When I was growing up, Advent was not the beginning of Christmas; it was its own season. My elementary school did not have a Christmas concert; we had an Advent program. My family did not put up decorations until after school was out, and we did not buy a Christmas tree until the last minute.We did have an Advent wreath that we placed in the center of our dinner table and lit every night (which meant candle one had to be replaced half way through the season).
Our Advent wreath was not a typical wreath of green ferns. It was made of wood and on it were carved symbols of the Christian faith. There was an image of a lamb, a fish, an anchor, the tree of Jesse, the star of David. These images are symbols of our history, symbols for Jesus that were painted in the catacombs of early Christians, symbols with meanings that are rooted in scripture and many from our Hebrew ancestors. These ancient symbols remind me now in this Advent season of how the Israelites waited. The thousands of years from the time of Abraham to the coming of the promised Messiah makes the four weeks of Advent seem pretty short.
Still it is not just during Advent that we wait for Christ’s coming. Today’s reading in Isaiah promises, “the LORD will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines. He will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations. He will destroy death forever. The Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces.” We are still waiting for this day, the day when there will be no more hunger, when there will be no more death from sickness or war, when there will be no more sadness but only joy. Our world is not yet like this, but we have this hope in Jesus.
Unlike the Israelites, we no longer wait for the coming of the Messiah. We celebrate on Christmas that he has come. Jesus said, "Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I say to you, many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it." We have heard Jesus’ message of redemption, and we can see his work being done in and through our lives. We still wait for the full coming of God’s kingdom, but we can build up his kingdom here on earth by the way that we wait for this second coming.
In our society, waiting is not something we like to do. We are used to instant gratification. We want to decide what we want to eat and then get it immediately at a fast food restaurant. We want to lose weight in a crash diet. We want to know all the answers as soon as we ask them by having the internet at our fingertips at all times. We get angry when there is a line at a convenience store or traffic on the interstate. We just can’t stand to wait. We even say “We can’t wait.” This instant satisfaction is contrary to God’s way. He took thousands of years to come to earth as the promised Messiah. It has been thousands of years since he came and the end of times the disciples expected in their lifetimes still has not come. God does not work instantly. He knows that we get true satisfaction when we take time. When we spend time to get fresh ingredients and cook a meal at home, when we make lasting changes to our lifestyle, we are healthier and feel better. When we research our questions, we find the true answer. When we spend more time in a line at the store we can have meaningful conversations with those around us. Good things come to those who wait.
The readings at Mass during Advent tell us how to wait. We hear the message to be watchful and ready. We must be aware to be able to see the coming of what we are waiting for. Again in our culture, we are constantly tuned in through media and internet, but are we really aware? Are we conscious of our surroundings, of the people physically present around us? We must be aware to see Jesus’ coming because he is here, now, and we will only find him if we are aware to his presence in each other. We must also be aware of ourselves. During Advent we are given the opportunity to receive the sacrament of Reconciliation. This sacrament, this sign of God’s grace, is meant to bring us to greater self awareness. Through reconciliation we take a long, loving look at ourselves and become aware of Jesus’ presence in us and then bring our weaknesses to the light to burn away the darkness that can get trapped within us.
Advent is a season of waiting, but it does not mean we do nothing. It is a time set aside for us to prepare for Christ’s coming. We become more aware of ourselves and our world and we see that the light of Christ is present here even amidst the growing darkness of these winter days. Each week as we light another candle in the wreath, Jesus’ light gets brighter. If each of us lets that light penetrate our own darkness- our fears, anxieties, worries, shortcomings- and at every opportunity shed that light on another, St. Dominic’s vision to set the world on fire for Christ will come true. A Dominican friar in the thirteenth century Meister Eckhart said , “What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to the Son of God fourteen hundred years ago and I do not also give birth to the Son of God in my time and in my culture? We are all meant to be Mothers of God." For the remainder of Advent, we are waiting to celebrate the birth of Jesus into world. Let us not wait in vain, but let us be living in a way that brings Jesus and his promises for joy and fulfillment into our own world and the world of those around us.