“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” My wife and I used to sing this song around the house in September when the kids were headed back to school. Needless to say, it ruined the song for our kids who didn’t appreciate our enthusiasm at their return to school life. But now the song echoes throughout the holiday season, filling radios, malls, department stores and souls aching for the “something more” to life. At a time when our church calls for waiting, silent space, hunger for justice and penitential preparedness, our life around us is filled with parties, shopping, decorations, lights and laughter.
We tend to be judgmental by condemning these cultural pulsations around us as some kind of self-centred sinfulness or misguided and crass commercialism, but this critique is too simplistic and denies the grace of God that is active and moving in that very din of activity.
Amidst the clamour there are very real and heart-felt expressions of love, forgiveness, community and kindness. Acts of charity are always on the rise in December. The Salvation Army hand-bells ring and as people walk by they give money for the poor. Not all have forgotten the “reason for the season.”
But this is the very role of our waiting in Advent. In our journey of faith, some time is called for to pause from our absorbing activities, take a deep breath and wait and listen for the gentle voice of the Spirit, breathing the breath of life into all corners of our world. This takes an act of disciplined listening. Sometimes, like Isaiah, we get restless for some great act of God that will get people’s attention. In today’s first reading he prays to God: “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!” Give us some drama, Lord, so we can say “I told you so” to all who did not believe, or ignored you throughout the year.
But the heavens do not open. They just offer to us a quiet starry sky on a cold night. This could serve as a reminder of another time when a star led a handful of attentive pagans to the Christ-child in Bethlehem.
A pause like this often brings to the surface deep and soulful needs we don’t pay much attention to through the rest of the year. But all of us carry our “aches of unfulfilment” like a weight around our shoulders, necks and brows. A sick relative, a non-communicative spouse, an aging parent, coworkers that are hard to get along with, a crabby boss, a rebellious child . . . to all of our life’s hurts we want to shout out to the heavens: “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down.”
We at times feel the poverty of our own efforts to make things better. We do well to remember that this verse in Isaiah ends with the well-known words: “Yet, you are our Father, we are the clay, you the Potter, we are the work of your hands.” We remember that God works through our chaos and uses our life to mould us and fashion our hearts, even when they are tired and filled with longing.
This Advent, steal some time from the hectic pace and ask some deeper questions. Where am I going? Where is life taking me? How are my relationships? What action of good can I do to grace another person’s life? Where is God in all of this? If we can share our reflections with another significant person, all the better. For when we put voice to those issues that are deep in our hearts, we may find there a golden nugget of self-understanding.
After all, the holy longing that arises at this time of year anticipates with sensitivity and hope the very Spirit that will fulfil those deepest longings. Henry Nouwen has a wonderful reflection on the “coming of God” to us. He writes in his book Finding Our Way Home:
God wants to come close to us, very close, so that we can rest in the intimacy of God as children in their mother’s arms. Therefore, God became a little baby. Who can be afraid of a little baby? God became human, in no way different from other human beings, to break through the walls of power in total weakness.
This really can be “the most wonderful time of the year.” Taking time for prayer, deeper thought, meditation and hopeful waiting can help us to “keep awake” as Jesus would want us to be. Enter, rejoice, give thanks! Pray in quiet and in community. These are ways to observe Advent and to enrich our celebration of the Christmas event. Have a most wonderful Advent.
Williston gives parish missions and is a missionary with the Redemptorists. He is also a song writer and recording artist.