FROM THE ARCHBISHOP
The Church Waits in the Season of Advent
Christmas decorations are everywhere brightening these ever-shortening days. Everywhere, that is, except in Catholic churches. Our churches remain plain in this decorative season. There are no evergreen wreathes, no trees festively embellished with garlands and brightly colored globes, no tinsel or wrappings or bows.
Instead of entering into the celebrations of the season, our church services make visible that we are waiting. Instead of entering into the merriment, we wait. Waiting is not colorful or joyous. Waiting often is not fun.
It is not fun to wait to go to a party because someone else is not finished getting ready. It is not fun to wait to renew a driver’s license. It is not fun to wait in a doctor’s office wondering what the results of the lab work of CT scan will be. Waiting usually is not fun.
The Church waits in the season of Advent. Before we celebrate that Christ has come to us and was born in a manger, we remember that we are waiting for his return. For centuries the Chosen People waited for the arrival of the promised Messiah. The waiting was not fun. There were times when the People of God were tempted to lose faith. The Prophet Habakkuk encouraged the people of God to persevere in waiting for the Messiah:
For the vision is a witness for the appointed time, a testimony to the end, it will not disappoint. If it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late. (Hb 2:3)
Now we wait for the One born to us in Bethlehem to return to us. In the meantime we wait and wonder how long will God delay in coming. We are called to persevere. We too are tempted to lose faith when we feel God has forgotten His promise to return. As Peter taught in his epistle:
The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard “delay” but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Pt 3:9)
The plainness of our churches reminds us that the Church is waiting for the One who once came as a baby to return on clouds of glory to judge the nations. On Christmas we will celebrate that the Messiah was born to die on the cross so that we may have forgiveness. The four weeks of Advent allow us to prepare spiritually to celebrate this great feast of the birth of the Savior. It also allows us to remember that one day we will stand before this same Messiah who we will see in all His glory.
In the meantime we are called to remember that God is faithful, not only as the Church, but also as individuals. God’s “delay’ does not mean He has forgotten us. Often in our individual lives we are tempted to think that God’s delay in answering our prayers means that He has forgotten us. We can lose hope when we pray and our prayers are not answered when we want them answered, or in the way we want them answered. I have often felt that the great challenge of faith for most of us is not that we doubt God exists but that we are tempted to doubt that God knows we exist.
Yet Jesus has told us that our Father loves us and constantly watches over us. God knows how many hairs we have on our heads. (Lk 12:7) His plans for us are for our good. (Jer 29:11) His delay is not delay but is the unfolding of His plan for each of us according to His love for us and His infinite wisdom. Isaiah told us that Emmanuel will come to us, a name that means “God is with us.” (Is 7:14)
God is with us. We may sometime struggle to believe this. Our prayer can often be that of psalm 13 which begins:
How long, Lord? Will you utterly forget me? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I carry sorrow in my soul, grief in my heart day after day?
Still the psalmist, filled with faith, ends the same psalm with words of trust in God:
But I trust in your mercy. Grant my heart joy in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord for he has dealt bountifully with me.
This is the same trust in God that we are called to have when God seems to delay in answering us. His delay is not delay although our frail human hearts may consider it so. Instead, He is with us. It is for us to believe and wait and trust.