O Wait, O Wait
Published Date: December 10, 2010
By William Grimm
A friend complained that his parish had not used the hymn O Come, O Come, Emmanuel on the first Sunday of Advent. I tried explaining that the hymn is not legitimately used until December 17, when the focus of Advent’s prayers and readings shifts to preparing for Christmas. He did not care for liturgical or theological niceties, however. He wanted his favorite hymn, and he was not willing to wait for it.
It is ironic that he would not wait in a season that is all about waiting. The word “advent” means “coming,” but the Lord does that. Our part in the season is waiting “in joyful hope” to welcome his coming. And not just in this season.
The meaning of the Church’s liturgical seasons is not limited to those seasons. Repentance and conversion mark our whole life, not just 40 days in Lent. Our baptismal union with the risen Lord is not limited to Easter time. We rejoice that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” not solely in the Christmas season. The seasons give us time and reason to concentrate our thoughts and prayers on different aspects of our whole lives.
Advent is the liturgical season that possibly more than any other encapsulates our day-to-day experience.
Waiting is the story of our lives. As children, we wait for birthdays and school holidays. In our youth we wait to be old enough to do “grown-up” things. We wait for trains, planes and buses. We wait for death. In the end, only the birthdays (an indeterminate number), the school holidays and death are sure to show up.
But if waiting is the state in which we live until we die, why do we have so much trouble with it? We hate to wait. Why can’t we get used to it?
Our hunter-gatherer ancestors had to wait for prey or patiently search out edible plants, insects and animals. Agriculturalists still must wait through the long growing season between planting and harvest. I wonder if our, if my, impatience with being patient is a product of the age of “instant” in which we live. Instant coffee. Instant noodles. Instant gratification.
“Advent” means “coming” and coming is something that happens from the future, and the future is something we can only await. This is the time of year when I remind myself that my whole life is lived in expectation of something that is coming, and that does not merely mean December 25.
I have a past. It has made me the person I am in the present. However, the story of my past and present is not the real story of me. My real story is in the future, in God’s invitation to draw closer and in the opportunities (including death) that will bring me closer and closer to God. God calls to me from out of the future rather than pushing me from the past.
Every moment is an advent. In every moment God invites me to move away from the past through the present into a new future.
But, there are obstacles. Of course, I have no choice about going into the future. Though physicists have shown that it can vary in speed, time moves in only one direction in this universe. My obstacles are the sins of my past and my tendency to not let go of them in the present.
They prevent my fully meeting the advent of the future because one of the characteristics of sin is that it is directed to the present. I sin because of what I want or want to avoid in the present.
The people who went to the Jordan River to John the Baptist had to repent and abandon their sins if they were to meet the one who would come, the Christ. The same is true of me. That does not mean abandoning the present. It means living a present that can worthily come with me into the advent of the future. The eternal future to which God calls me must shape my present.
This four-week season of Advent is a reminder of what my whole life must be, a “waiting in joyful hope for the coming of our savior, Jesus Christ.”
Father William Grimm is a Tokyo-based priest and publisher of UCA News, and former editor-in-chief of “Katorikku Shimbun,” Japan’s Catholic weekly.