December 9, 2016


Advent waiting begins and ends now

“Advent invites us neither to lament the past nor be anxious about the future, but to give today to God. Knowing that he has not wasted our past and that the future is securely in his hands, we can assume that we arrived at the present moment by his providence and that because Jesus is Emmanuel—God-with-us—it is now that he comes to us.”
—Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain

We’re used to thinking of Advent as a time of expectant waiting. We long for the coming of Christ at Christmas and at the end of time, and our waiting takes on the character of joyful hope.

But our faith also tells us, in no uncertain terms, that the Blessed Hope we’re waiting for has already come. More than 2,000 years ago, the Word of God became one of us. (As St. John tells us, he “pitched his tent among us” by taking on human flesh.) The mystery of the Incarnation reveals God’s historical presence among us. The miracle of the Eucharist reveals the Lord’s presence—here and now—in the sacrament of his body and blood.

So what are we waiting for? Why risk turning our attention away from God-with-us to look for something that is yet-to-come?

This is the paradox of Advent. It is a time when we look backward to Bethlehem, and forward to the heavenly Jerusalem without losing sight of the fact that God is with us and his kingdom is in our midst here and now.

The key to understanding this paradox is the recognition that we are never at a fixed point in our journey to heaven. Each of us has a past, a present and a future. The same is true of the Church, the Body of Christ. We are a pilgrim people—immigrants seeking a new home. It’s right for us to look back to where we came from, and it’s important to look forward to where we’re headed, but we should never lose sight of Christ’s presence among us here and now as a fellow traveler, as someone who walks with us on every step of our life’s journey.

This is why the liturgical readings for this holy season remind us to “stay awake,” and to “be ready” for the Lord’s coming at times, and in circumstances, where we least expect him.

In An Advent Pilgrimage: Preparing Our Hearts for Jesus, Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain writes, “Precisely because the present moment is that time in which the Lord could come, it contains a precious treasure, and all our life has prepared us for it. Staying awake, being prepared, means that we allow the hope springing from the promises of God to inspire and enliven the present moment with peace.”

We are invited to “stay awake” so that we can encounter Christ in the present moment. Yes, he came once long ago and, yes, he will come again on the last day, but are we paying enough attention to his coming in the present moment?

Do we recognize him sitting across from us at the kitchen table? Are we prepared for his appearance among our co-workers (even those who irritate us)? Do we see him in the strangers we’re tempted to hurry past, or worse, to keep out of our communities?

Waiting for the Lord should never be an excuse to restrict our focus to the distant past or future. Advent waiting begins and ends now. It invites us to see what is right before our very eyes—the love of Christ incarnate in our sisters and brothers, in the Eucharist and other sacraments, in the Word of God dwelling among us, and in the secrets of our wounded and fearful hearts.

Emmanuel, God-with-us, is in the present moment as well as in the past and future. We wait in joyful hope for his coming—both here and now—and in the days to come. We celebrate his presence in Bethlehem of old, and in the new Jerusalem that is to come. But most of all, we rejoice that God comes to us when we least expect him often in the busiest, loneliest, most unexpected moments of our daily lives.

“Perhaps we waste time, but God does not,” Archbishop Sartain writes. “He finds a way to make profitable use even of those times when we stray.”

Advent invites us to prepare our hearts for Jesus by staying awake and paying attention to the things that matter most.

This Advent, let’s not waste our time (or God’s). Let’s look for God-with-us in the present moment—especially if we have strayed. Let’s seek his love and mercy in the present moment, and let’s welcome him joyfully into our daily lives!

Come, Lord Jesus—here and now!

—Daniel Conway

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