Our increasingly technological age has given us the mindset that waiting for anything is a pointless inconvenience which must be managed into non-existence for true human thriving. This begets in us a damaging hubris which can colour our thinking and obscure the truth about the world.
Thank God, I have never had to wait months for a hip replacement, but if I did, I am sure my principle emotion would be to resent the wait. Technology combines with a natural aversion to suffering to ensure that resentment at the wait would be far more crucial to my thinking than grateful wonder at the possibility of a cure to avoid indeterminate years of pain and crippled gait, as would have been the case in a previous age. Put simply, the object I wait for, rather than the duration or privation of my waiting, is what allows me to wait in hope.
I can only wait in joyful hope for something I consider a gift, a blessing. If I consider anything as mere entitlement then I will experience the wait for it as frustrating, a kind of punishment. Advent reveals the contours of what it means to wait for Christ’s fullness as its liturgy gives voice to the immemorial longing for a saviour; of how this longing perdures through centuries to the point where there are just a very few who are able to recognise the Messiah, who see the ancient promises fulfilled in his victory over death, and preach Him to the world as the Lord who is to return with the majesty to complete his reign and unite all things in Him.
The mood of Advent, then, is joy-in-waiting, of allowing the anticipation of the fullness of life and salvation in Christ to give meaning to the present even as it opens it to greater meaning, in the way that a river scours its own channel to make it run deeper and broader. My salvation, my life in Christ, is both realised and anticipated. I wait in Him for the fullness of life in me promised by His presence.
Anticipation means to take into possession ahead of time. The etymology of the prefix “ant-”, which means front or forehead, reveals the suggestive connotation that one must turn one’s face or front towards something in order to possess it, or that one may possess it in the forehead, in thought, before fully possessing it with all of oneself. This, in turn, hints at the true meaning of the word “metanoia”, or repentance, which is so characteristic of the Advent season. It means literally to turn one’s mind around to face a different direction.
Advent is a wait for a fullness of Christ’s presence which is not accounted for by celebrating Christmas. His Incarnation in history revealed the possibility of salvation as the tidal pull of that history. It gave a human form and shape as the content and hope of questions about the meaning of human existence. The past revelation of Christ’s presence and the Christ who is to return in glory urgently demand a new way of living, a turning towards the light he brings. As we hear St Paul explain to Titus (2:11-13), God’s grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible and taught us that we have to give up everything that does not lead to God, as well as all our worldly ambitions, while we wait in hope for the appearing of the glory of Our God and Saviour Jesus Christ.
How to continue reading…
This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week
The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection