Tonight, the moon dances brilliantly against the night. Darkness frames that shining light. Besotted with the contrast, the liturgical year re-opens just as the secular year slides to its close. It has been a calamitous year, one that will re-shape our culture for generations to come. Each of the readings for the First Sunday of Advent have a powerful relevance to the torturous year of 2020. The first reading is from Isaiah 63, “Yet, O LORD, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands.” The responsorial psalm is Ps. 80, “O shepherd of Israel, hearken, from your throne upon the cherubim, shine forth. Rouse your power, and come to save us.” “He will keep you firm to the end.” comes from the second reading from First Cornithians. Finally, there are words from the Gospel of Mark 13: “What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’”
In the midst of such turmoil socially, politically and economically, these phrases are priceless reminders of what it means to be who we are as Christians and Catholics. The first speaks to the universality of humanity, the realization that each of us is only and always human, flawed and fabulous at the same time. The second imparts the sense that there is the something greater than self, that reaching out for help, support, even rescue, is intrinsically human. Each of us has that capacity to interact with one another in the awareness that we are each the hands and heart of Christ. The third speaks to trust, that elusive sense of confidence in one another that is fundamental to absolutely interaction. And the last is about choosing to be attentive, observant, and therefore becoming intensely alive. There is no denying the grief, confusion, conflicts and confrontations that have raged in 2020. But these four constructs are the springboard for a season of new beginnings.
Advent, after all, is about waiting. As a child, I thought it was meant to mark the months of Mary’s wait for the birth. As a young adult, I learned about theological significance. As a middle-aged adult, I felt the sense of anticipation underlying both. Waiting is about wondering and wanting, trusting in something that has not yet arrived but is on the way. This year, that is true on a thousand different levels. The ambiguity and uncertainty of the pandemic has given even more significance to this time of waiting, of wanting.
How we wait matters as much as that we wait. So much is simply beyond our control. But these phrases, lifted from readings that echo through time and throughout the Catholic world, are reminders of what really matters. In the midst of anxiety, fear, and change, these words tell us to embrace this moment, to be who we are, to draw on our best selves, and to dare to live each moment to the fullest. The challenge is right there, and the chance to welcome that, to live that, is ours. God is waiting for us.