Jesus said to his disciples: “Be watchful!” Consider how much of the day is simply waiting. We wait in a daily snarl of traffic, we linger at queue for the restroom, and we take a number at the deli. In many offices there are rooms dedicated to waiting. Whether we go to the doctor’s, to the DMV, or to our favorite restaurant, we often find our lives on pause. In fact, researchers say we spend years of our lives doing nothing more than waiting. By one estimate, Americans collectively spend 37 billion hours a year waiting in some sort of line. Over a lifetime, the average person will spend three full years waiting. Waiting is the story of our lives.
It’s no wonder that our response to all this hanging around is to look for creative ways to avoid it. We make reservations, make use of the carpool lane, and shop online. Speeding up the process, employing a more efficient way, discovering a shortcut: such are the virtues of a good business practice. No one enjoys waiting, and when we find a way around it, we jump at it.
This weekend we celebrate the 2nd Sunday of Advent, the season of waiting. As a culture, we don’t easily recognize the virtue of Advent is waiting. Culturally, it is already Christmas. Trees have been trimmed, eggnog stocks the shelves and 24-hour radio stations churn out old familiar Christmas tunes. For many, beginning from Thanksgiving (or even Halloween), we’re now in the midst of the “holiday” season, a time for celebration and festivity.
As wonderful as early Christmas cheer can be, we risk losing out on the power of Advent if we jump too quickly to Christmas celebrations. This can happen in two ways. First, we risk burnout. With all the busyness that accompanies celebration, feasting and song, by the time Christmas actually comes, we are ready to move on and return to the comfort of our normal routine. Last year, while I was taking a walk around the block on December 26, I noticed that the sidewalk was littered with discarded trees. Just as we begin the 12 days of celebrating Christmas, most decorations are ready for the trash heap. When we jump too quickly to celebrate, we can lose the joy of the celebration when it arrives.
Second, if we skip the waiting of Advent, we miss the spiritual power of the season. Because the waiting of Advent is not simply the sort of waiting one does in traffic or the supermarket. Rather, the waiting of Advent is a time of joyful preparation. I was reflecting on this sense of preparation on Thanksgiving, as we celebrated a meal here in the Priory. There was lots of activity for the meal: we set the table, folded the napkins (some more successfully than others!) and pitched in to help with food preparation. Though we were busy with activity, there was a delight in being together, enjoying each other’s company and engaging in brotherly banter. After all the hustle and bustle, once dinnertime arrived, we were ready to eat. The joy of the Thanksgiving celebration was not simply the meal, but all the preparation that went into the meal. The meal was the culmination of all that had gone before. In other words, the journey is part of the destination itself.
Two practical resources are helping me prepare for Christmas: blue Advent books and daily reflections published by Fr. Robert Barron. First, I appreciated the first reflection in the blue book which invited us to make an Advent plan that is both personal and practical. Since many parishioners are using the book, perhaps we might share our Advent plan with someone who can encourage us in our spiritual goals for this season. When we spend six-minutes a day with the Lord, we open ourselves us to His direction in our lives. If you didn’t get an Advent book, drop by the office and pick one up. Second, I have been enjoying the reflections of Robert Barron. I appreciate getting a short, but often memorable, daily Advent reflection sent to my email box each morning. It’s a good way to start the day before I launch into the busyness of the day. (You can sign up at www.adventreflections.com.) May this season of waiting truly be a time of joyful preparation for Christ’s coming alive in our lives!
~ Fr. Michael Hurley, O.P.