I vividly remember what it felt when Lisa was pregnant with Evelyn, and as we waited for her due date to draw near. The doctors told us that she was due on January 5, the Twelfth Day of Christmas and my sister’s birthday. As the days passed by, we took care of all the details: nursery, time off, the plan to get the hospital, how to make the phone calls to family, letting our priests know at Holy Trinity parish.
Then, January 5 came…and went. As did the 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th. We found ourselves in a state of constant anticipation where we kept at our normal routines while also waiting: Lisa taught school and I worked as a hospice chaplain. We wondered each night when we went to sleep if we would wake up in the middle of the night.
Perhaps at one time I would have said that we lived in two worlds: One world of paying bills and keeping to schedules and commuting and making dinner and another world of anticipation that was laid over our normal routines. The reality was—and is—that it is only one world. We were living in one world, the difference was only that we learned that the posture of waiting and watching for new life is always a hallmark of the life we lived. Our perspective had widened…
The call to “keep alert” became very real for us—as so many who have been in this situation know so well.
I will never forget the Advent of 2006. It felt so very real to us to have our own child due during Christmastide. That was our particular circumstance of waiting and watching for new life.
But to be sure, waiting for the birth of a child is not the only way we wait and watch for hope and new life. We wait for news of a long sought for job that will give security to our lives…a space to breathe. We wait test results that will hopefully show the treatment has worked as the doctors projected. We wait for the last few months of employment until we step into that space of retirement and rest. We wait for our special someone to finally ask the question! We watch and pray for an end to violence and ego, to greed and hubris.
We wait. We watch. We hope.
When we reflect deeply on this, we learn that Advent exists every moment of our lives, not just in these days when the light is crisper and shorter and the weather is colder. Watching and waiting is a hallmark of humanity.
At this time of year we come together to pay attention to the words of prophets, to our story. We start at the beginning, at that moment with Adam and Eve and the temptation that changed everything. In this story we see the dark side, as it were, of our humanity: our propensity for pride and grasping. The power of this story is not that it was a historical event; rather, the deeper power of this story is that it is still happening.
It is into this reality that the prophets speak, calling us to both a wider perspective and a reorientation. Calling us to wake up from our “psychic numbness” as Walter Brueggemann used to describe in class. Calling us to conversion and transformation, to recognize our interdependence on each other and our dependence on the Creator who gives us existence and who entered into our very existence in the Incarnation.
This is the essence of Advent, the deep teaching: that every moment of our life is Advent, and that, in the Blessed Mother, we see the profound vocation that we all share: to bear God within our own lives and give birth to hope, peace, love, and justice in and through our very existence.
Perhaps that shocks you, to describe our common vocation in those terms, that in Blessed Mary we see the deepest truth of our lives, but remember, the true power of the story is not just that it happened but that it is still happening, each and every moment of our lives.
In this icon of the Annunciation, in that moment of encounter between Mary and Gabriel, we are called to recognize God’s invitation to each of us. We celebrate, we venerate Mary, because of her courage. And, meditating on her courage encourages us to wake up, ourselves.
To be sure, such an encounter with God is never a polite or demure moment. In nearly every icon or image of Mary I have, there is a delicateness about her. There is an aura of serene beauty. And this serene beauty is true, but never for one moment make the mistake of thinking that this serene beauty is fragile. Not when it comes to Mary. Nothing about her is fragile.
In that moment when Gabriel first comes to share God’s invitation with her, Mary responds back with questions of her own. “How can this be?” She is an active participant in this divine encounter, not just a passive receptacle of divine blessing. And we must never lose sight of this reality of active participation.
Only in that space of active participation and engagement does Mary respond with her critical fiat, “let it be with me according to thy word.” I consent. I pledge my own participation in the divine plan. I take my place in the lineage of prophets and sages. I recognize the plight of human existence, the gravity toward greed and pride, toward arrogance and violence that seems to define our world. I recognize all this. I see it all, and I reach out my hands, open my heart, give my life. I choose to bear God in this world.
This is why we have hope, because in our own hearts—perhaps deep down, buried under far too much pain and suffering but there nonetheless—we know that hope has taken root in us. We know what it feels like. We know what it looks like. We know it is real.
And we remember that we are called to proclaim it and give birth to it in the world today. Each and every one of us. Waiting. Watching. Keeping alert.
Keep your lamps trimmed and burning.
You do not know what hour the bridegroom comes.
Comfort, O Comfort my people.
O Come, O Come Emmanuel
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.
Blessed are you among women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus…
My soul magnifies the Lord
And my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
My spirit rejoices in God my savior.
My spirit rejoices in God my savior.