Waiting : Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
“We keep on waiting…
Waiting on the world to change…”
Advent has come upon us once again. Despite being one of the most beloved seasons of the Church Year, the origins of Advent are uncertain. An Advent season is mentioned in the records of the Council of Tours in 567. This is of interest in that a previous bishop of Tours, Perpetuus (461-490) had promulgated instructions for a fast before the Feast of the Nativity that stretched from November 11 to Christmas Eve and the first Mass of the feast. In the time of Pope Gregory the Great (590-604) there is mention in his homilies of a four week season of preparation which closely aligns with current liturgical practice. It appears, however, that the general observation of Advent as a season of penitence and expectation did not become normative in the western Church until the fourteenth century under Urban V.
Today, the season is one of penitence and expectation. We look towards the coming of Christ. We look for the coming of Christ in his Incarnation and his birth in Bethlehem. We look for the coming of Christ into our hearts. We look for the coming of Christ in judgement at the parousia. The appointed readings for the season reflect these themes, including the prophecies of the Hebrew scriptures and the testimony of John the Baptist at Christ’s first coming. Sunday by Sunday we wait to light the candles on the Advent wreath until, at last, the central Christ candle is lit on Christmas Eve.
Advent, it seems to me, is a season of waiting.
We, along with the prophets of old, wait for the coming of Christ, as once again we “delight to hear again the message of the angels, and in heart and mind to go even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which is come to pass, and the Babe lying in a manger.” With John the Baptist we wait to behold “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”. With Mary the Mother of our Lord, we wait for God to show his strength, to scatter the proud, to pull down the mighty, to exalt the humble and meek, to fill the hungry with good things, to send the rich away empty, and to remember his mercy and his promises. With the apostles, we wait for the apocalypse and judgment of all the nations when Christ returns in glory at the end of the age. Perhaps most of all, we wait for the continuing affirmation of Christ in our hearts and lives in our continuing fellowship with others in the life of the Church and in the sacraments.
Our waiting, expectation and penitence is, perhaps, a bit too real in 2020.
This Advent we wait for this pandemic to abate, even as we mourn and question the loss of over a quarter of a million lives in the United States alone.
This Advent we wait for the full testing and distribution of an effective vaccine in the hope that our normal lives might resume.
This Advent we wait for the opportunity to see and embrace friends and family once again.
This Advent we wait for the time when we can once again worship with others, without fear or restraint, and together partake of the fullness of the life of the Church.
This Advent, like John Mayer’s song, we are truly waiting on the world to change…
This Advent will be different. There will hopefully be fewer, if any, Christmas parties in offices and homes. Gatherings of families will be smaller and, for some, will be overshadowed by the hospitalization or loss of a loved one. For those who have lost jobs or businesses, this Advent may well be a time of sorrow as they view the future with a sense of anxiety.
Yet, perhaps the meaning of Advent may become clearer and more focused as we wait, and hope, and even as we mourn. For all of Advent, all of our waiting in these coming weeks, leads us to one place and to one person. It leads us to an infant in a manger… an infant who will change the world by taking us to himself… So, I’ll be waiting… waiting for the world to change.