What are we waiting for, and how should we wait during Advent?
Although the season of Advent is a time of penitence and a certain austerity, it is above all a time of joyful waiting. But what are we waiting for? And how should we wait?
Let us prepare our hearts to receive God made man
During Advent, we wait and prepare for the coming of Jesus at Christmas. This seems obvious, but perhaps you have already heard your children (more likely the teenagers, rarely the little ones) object that the whole thing seems artificial to them: “Why should we prepare for Christmas? Jesus was born a long time ago and isn’t coming back on December 25. Christmas will be like every year: in the end, nothing ever happens. Afterwards, life goes on exactly like before: there are always problems, people suffering and wars.” And how many adults, deep down, think the same thing: “Christmas is for children. We have no false illusions anymore: we know that Christmas is not going to change anything.” For them, Christmas is either a kind of fictional story to make children get excited or a simple commemoration: it is done “as if,” without much relevance to real, day to day life. And Advent therefore boils down topreparing for a party.
Yes, it is true that through the Incarnation the Son of God was introduced into history: He was born in Bethlehem, once and only once, and is not “reborn” every year at Christmas. But the birth of Jesus is an event that concerns more than just his contemporaries: Jesus was not only born for Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and the Magi. He was born for me, for each one of us. Even if I cannot go to the manger like the shepherds, I am invited to contemplate and adore in the same way they did. I don’t do “as if I were there” because it is today, in my life, that I can welcome the mystery of the Incarnation and live it. Jesus, who was born in Bethlehem out of love for me, is truly alive and present. The manger, the straw, and the cries of the newborn was then, but Jesus-made-man out of love for me is now. And that is what Christmas is all about. In other words, during Advent, we do not prepare a manger to welcome a newborn baby, we prepare our hearts to welcome God-made-man. “But we already did that last year! It doesn’t make sense to do it all over again!” Last year? Of course, and not only last year, because it is every day that we are invited to welcome Jesus. But we don’t welcome Him once and that’s it — it is never enough, it is never over. So how do we prepare our hearts to receive the mystery of Christmas?
Three key words that go hand in hand with Advent
Prayer, poverty and patience must become our guides to Christmas.
- Prayer, first and always. As a family and individually, it is necessary to dedicate more time to prayer during these four weeks leading up to Christmas. Each of us should think about how we can do this. We can ask the Blessed Virgin, who lived an “Advent” of nine months, from the Annunciation to the Nativity, to help us: let us not hesitate to pray the Rosary, the prayer par excellence of the little ones and the poor. And we should meditate on the passages of the Word of God that the Church gives us throughout Advent. During family prayer, for example, we can take up the psalms that speak of the expectations and hopes of God’s people.
- Poverty: One only has to look at the manger and the simplicity of the shepherds who were the first to be invited to meet the Messiah to understand that it takes a humble heart to enter into the mystery of Christmas. This means freeing ourselves from our possessions. We all have them, whether we are four years old or 50, and they are not necessarily worth their weight in gold—they are an obstacle between God and us. Advent is a time of stripping away.
- Patience: During Advent, we are invited to meditate on the long wait of the Chosen People who, for millennia, longed for the coming of the Messiah. The Old Testament reminds us that “the Lord is patient” and merciful, infinitely so: his people (like each one of us) can give him a thousand reasons to renounce his design of love, but God never says: “What’s the use? It’s a waste of time!” Patience is learned every day, as I learn how to accept obstacles, delays and setbacks with calm and joy, as I learn to walk at a slightly slower pace, when I surrender into God’s hands all my anguish and fear for the future in order to fully live the present moment. So let’s take the time to prepare for Christmas well!