The Gestation Of Advent: The Wait Of Hopeful Longing For The Coming Of The Messiah

by Advent and Christmas

Expectant waiting. This is a notion– when considered through the lens of modernity– that seems like a foreign concept from the days of yore. The world is available at the slight extension of the fingertips. Objects of both necessity and desire can be purchased with the simplicity of a click and arrive at the doorstep within two days’ time. Any television show or movie can be instantly procured and enjoyed with the minimal effort of pressing a few buttons. Indeed, the world is more at our fingertips than it has ever been in history. In spite of [this], how is our ability to maintain patience affected? 

The Wait Of Hopeful Longing For The Coming Of The Messiah

Catholics are familiar with the dichotomy between fasting and feasting. Innumerable volumes of the lives of the saints contain wonderful examples that self-denial leads to holiness. The Church in her wisdom has created spaces of time within the Liturgical Calendar to fast in preparation for a great feast. Although Lent is the primary fast of the Church calendar, Advent is also an important season of denial with a similar feasting end. The greatest fast is the simple observation of Advent itself, the wait of hopeful longing for the coming of the Messiah.

Within the context of the Advent season, a unique opportunity is available to the faithful to gestate alongside Our Lady. As an expectant mother longs with anticipation for the day she can hold her unborn child, we wait with Mary and recognize that our hearts long to make space to cradle the infant Lord. The redirection of our attention is made effective by simply embracing the wait, not by a rejection or mere delay of celebration. It is in the experience of the penitential seasons that the value of a feast is most appreciated. As I mention in my book, Theology of Home IV: Arranging the Seasons, at the start of December, we enter into a great tension: 

“With the commencement of Advent, the Church’s calendar begins again. All things end to make room for new beginnings in nature and within our hearts. Advent is a sacred season of waiting and watching for Christ’s coming. Yet, the secular world seeks to accelerate through the anticipatory wait. A temptation exists to join the world in the forgoing of this prayerful time and proceed immediately to the fun of Christmas. Gleaning from the intentionality of the seasons, we see it applies to so much in life.”

Theology of Home IV: Arranging the Seasons, Page: 246

The temptation to fast forward through Advent to the joys of Christmas is not only understandable but a battle universally faced. It is a season that stands apart: the music, decorations, recipes, and the nostalgia are easy to crave, particularly during a pared down liturgical season. It requires perseverance to persist against the tide of a world that desires to zip past the waiting. Interestingly, this resolve is more tested in this season than during Lent, a time when abstaining is commonly accepted. As we prepare our hearts for Christ’s Passion, we must also prepare our hearts to receive him in his birth by fasting from the Christmas rush. Yet, a particular peace is found by living in the present season in whichever direction Providence leads. 

“An excellent relationship exists between beauty and the slowness of pace. Slowing permits a better posture to encounter beauty while the encounter relaxes us further. Contemplation of beauty places us into what Jean-Pierre de Caussade calls the “Sacrament of the Present Moment,” within which we attain an attentive posture. We are particular and intuitive in a state of attentiveness, with a deep focus and disregard for erroneous noise and distraction. Allowing ourselves to be present is the best weapon in our fight against the tyranny of the urgent fueled by utilitarianism, pulling in all different paths that lead to nowhere.”

Theology of Home IV: Arranging the Seasons, Page 254

Create An Atmosphere To Prepare For The Lord’s Coming

How do we create an attentive atmosphere within the home? Fortunately, a lot can be done to prepare our hearts (and homes) for the Lord’s coming. A walk outside showcases abundant varieties of fragrant evergreens that stand out against the slumbering garden. These clippings can be made into Advent wreaths or simple evergreen garlands to be later adorned with festive cheer. The recounting of salvation history with a Jesse Tree is a wonderful way to facilitate an expectant posture with children, as we daily anticipate the Messiah with the characters of the Old Testament. A nativity placed in a prominent place within the home also uses the tangible to communicate that which is intangible. It beckons our attention when it is decorated with greens and straw is placed within the empty manger. Over time, these beautiful things become lovingly associated with this period of joyful hope. 

“A Christmas celebration after the pregnant pause of Advent is much more prosperous due to the filling of a longing that only Christ can satiate. But first we must uncouple ourselves from our distractive attachments that otherwise preoccupy the space for the good, the true, and the beautiful. As we put aside the world’s distractions…in preparation for Christ’s birth, we prayerfully create a space for God. Distractions tether us to the ground when we should be rushing to the Lord upon his coming.”

Theology of Home IV: Arranging the Seasons, Page: 251

May God in His mercy grant us the resolve to persevere in a gestative posture as we cry out, “come thou long-expected Jesus,” and to be ready for Him when He comes to reign. 

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