First Sunday in Advent 2020

In today’s readings, Jesus offers his followers an image about watching and waiting:

“Be watchful! Be alert!
You do not know when the time will come.
It is like a man traveling abroad.
He leaves home and places his servants in charge,
each with his own work,
and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch.
Watch, therefore;
you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming,
whether in the evening, or at midnight,
or at cockcrow, or in the morning.
May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.
What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!” (Mk13:33-37)

This morning I listened to a beautiful performance of an Advent song sung by the Dominican Sisters of Mary, “Awake, Awake for Night is Flying”. I have it on Itunes and recommend their album (5 or 6 dollars on Itunes) and you can listen to it here on Youtube for free as well: Bach’s hymn speaks of waking up when the gatekeeper does finally call out that the Lord has arrived, and the joy that ensues when going out to meet the Bridegroom. There is light where before there was only darkness, and the brides hold lanterns that evoke the light of dawn that will soon be breaking.

Advent is a time where we await the coming of the Lord, and as we meditate on the joy that we will feel and know when we meet God face to face, we already can receive a taste of that joy right now—even in its incompleteness. We live in the taste of joy found in what is “in between.”

Think of a person that you love from whom you may be separated during COVID-19. This year, I was not able to see my in-laws for Thanksgiving, and we have not seen them since last Christmas, and I have not seen my mother, who lives in a different area of the country than I do, for even longer. Or maybe there is an adult child away at college, or a dear friend that one runs into at the office in the day to day of ordinary life.

In the absence of those we love, we wait, but we wait with a kind of expectant hope. We awaken our hope in part through how we exercise our imaginations. Maybe we imagine what we will cook for Christmas dinner when a college child is home for the winter break. Maybe we imagine where we will travel with relatives when it is safe to travel again. I miss the chapel at which I used to attend a daily Mass, and sometimes I think about the beauty of that space with its stained glass windows, its cross and altar, and a lovely statue of Mary and Jesus of which I am fond. There is a kind of rousing of the soul that takes place simply through considering, pondering where God might appear to us next—often in unexpected graces.

In Advent, too, we can practice a kind of expectant hope by the choices that we make in how we use the time of the season. I think that Jesus is speaking to us about how we wait for God’s reign, how we wait for peace, justice, love, and the deepest kind of communion with the Lord and with one another. We don’t want to sleep through the waiting. We ought not miss the anticipation because already in the waiting and in the anticipation, there is hope and love to be found.

In Advent, then, we might spend time with the season’s Scripture, and remember both how the prophets and disciples of the past waited. We might consider what their words mean for us today, both personally and socially. I know that I also find that beautiful lights or seasonal directions encourage my heart to feel hopeful and to notice beauty everywhere.

One of my friends likes to say that Advent is a time when we allow God to break through into the darkness of the world, and into ourselves, so we can also consider where that is in our world right now. Where in our world are we most in need of healing? Where in ourselves and in our relationships? And what do we need to do to pay attention so that when God offers us these gifts and graces, we are ready to receive?