As I start this reflection, the first snowflakes of the season dance across the campus. Our Hawaiian students try to catch flakes on their tongue while giggling through it all. They have been waiting for these snowy days to arrive throughout a very long and moderate autumn. It is a tradition here that our first-year students from Hawaii run through the snow in flip-flops and make snow angels in the Jesuit Gardens. They wait with great anticipation and expectation for this first experience of “winter on the mainland.” How appropriate it is—at least to me—that their expectations coincide with the liturgical calendar and the season of advent, this great season of expectation and anticipation.
On reflection, waiting is something we do not like to do because it takes patience. Patience is not our strong suite—at least not mine. Yet the church invites us to wait expectantly and patiently as we visit the fulfillment of promises spoken in the Hebrew scripture and as the story of the birth of Jesus emerges, yet again and afresh.
Life today often seems like a brief interlude between rushing and waiting. We rush to airports and wait; we go shopping and wait in lines; we rush between classes to eat lunch and wait in lines; we even wait in line to receive communion!
Yet we wait because we know we will catch the plane, get the gift, or have lunch. Our expectations are ultimately fulfilled. That is the reward for our waiting. The essence of waiting is in the hope fulfilled and that is the central theme of advent: a faithful God fulfills his promise to an expectant people.
That fulfillment is found in our first reading from Isaiah. Amidst all of the destruction, uprooting and desolation of Israel, Isaiah is telling the people that if they return to the ways of the Lord, “their prosperity would be like a river, and their vindication like the waves of the sea.” But they must wait, they must be patient because the Holy One of Israel will teach them what is best for them, will teach them what is for their own good—as individuals and as God’s chosen people. This only will happen if they listen to God’s commandments and wait for God’s directives.
This, I suggest, is a great place to pause and reflect and ask these same questions: during this advent season what do I most lack that keeps me from doing what is good? Which way should I go to find the right path in following the Lord, in healing relationships, in making a difference at home, workplace or community? Can I wait patiently for God to direct me? Can I even formulate these questions this December day? The answers will not come easily or soon, but that is what Advent is about: waiting in anticipation for the manifestation of the Lord and the fulfillment of his promises.
The response to today’s psalm is very affirming for those who wait, to those who delight in the law of the Lord and meditate on his law day and night. For they “will have the light of life.”