Advent: Waiting in Joyful Hope

Literacy chic writes: “I love Advent!! I love the decorations, the readings, the music—especially “O Come O Come Emmanuel,” which I had never heard before I became Catholic. It is the time of the liturgical year when I most feel the awe and love—of God and the Church—that I mention above.” (She also says some really nice things about me.)

I feel the same way about Advent. I felt such joy last night when I dusted off the blue Advent-Christmas volume of the Liturgy of the Hours and stuck it in my all-season cover. I love the prayers, the sense of anticipation, like the whole world is holding its breath. I love the preparation and planning. I love the prayers with the repeated refrain: “come, come, come”

This is the second time I’ve been pregnant during Advent and the feelings are similar: all the wonder, hope, love, anticipation, eagerness for the arrival of a small child. In fact they feed each other, the one intensifying the other.

This morning at mass after receiving communion I knelt down to pray with a very squirmy toddler in my arms, not fighting or misbehaving, mind you, just 18 months old and full of energy. Rather than allowing myself to be distracted or annoyed (all too often what happens), I hugged her tightly to my chest and bowed my head.

Suddenly I felt a calm sense of clarity and of vocation: this is what God wants me to do: I am called to be a mother, to mother Bella. By clinging to her, holding on to her with serenity instead of impatience or frustration, I embrace that vocation. If I can only remain focused, I can see that in caring for her, I am following Christ’s call, I am caring for him. If I am distracted or annoyed, the problem is in me, not in her. She is what she was made to be: an innocent child. It is my duty to instruct her and guide her, to form her into what she is meant to be: a child of God.

And so, looking back, though I could not achieve that serene meditative state during the consecration that I sometimes managed when I was still childless, still I could follow the lead of the Blessed Mother and point the way to her divine Son:

Look, I whisper in Bella’s ear, Jesus is coming! Hush, Jesus is coming! See, Jesus is here! Look at Jesus! Hi, Jesus! And then as they ring the bells and the priest lifts Him up, she turns and looks. She waves and says hi to Jesus. Or she ignores me and continues to stare at the people behind us, to turn the pages of the missal or to plop herself down on the kneeler.

Even when she seems to be ignoring me, though, she hears. I must not let myself grow discouraged either by her inattentiveness or by my own. I must be persistent, calm, steadfast. I must not grow weary of the repetition that is so much a part of motherhood but rather let it be an antiphon: Come, Jesus, be with us Jesus, help us to see you, Jesus, to notice your presence here among us. Jesus. Emmanuel. God with us. Here, now. With us. I must keep my eyes on Him and eventually she will turn to see what has my attention.

Easier said than done? Yes. I know it; but so often fail to remember. I have to learn the same lessons over and over again. Fortunately, he is patient and forgiving. Fortunately, she has a short memory for my faults and is also very forgiving.

This morning in his homily father spoke about the meaning of Advent. He told a story about a priest who told his parish that they would not be having Christmas parties this year. Instead, they would have Advent parties. What is an Advent party? they asked. How does one do that?

I think I know how to do that. What I’d like to do, though, is something completely counter-cultural. I’d like to celebrate Advent to the fullest and then celebrate Christmas. I’d love to transfer all the parties and festivities, the merry-making and celebrations to their proper place, to the Christmas season, those days after Christmas, leading up to Epiphany, or even until Candlemas. Wouldn’t that brighten up those bleak January days? Why can’t we have the both the quiet anticipation of Advent and the joyful celebration of Christmas, each in its proper place?

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