The main theme of Advent is that of vigil. We are encouraged and formed throughout this pre-Christmas season to wait for the coming of the Messiah, the one who already manifested himself historically, but who will reveal himself in glory at the end of time. The liturgy during the approximately four weeks of advent is pregnant with the cry of a people who knows very well that their personal and national condition needs a change, and cling dearly to the promise of a saviour. “Tear open the skies and come down to earth” cries out the prophet Isaiah (Is 64:1). “I have called upon You, for You will answer me, O God; Incline Your ear to me, hear my speech. Wondrously show Your loving kindness, O Saviour of those who take refuge at Your right hand,” reiterates the Psalmist (Ps 17:6-7). And in another Psalm, God is even given a nudge “Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever” (Ps 44:23). Scripture is full of this dire need of a people who recognises its shortcomings and aspires for a fresh start that will endure forever.
Following this theme on a personal level, we can identify various stances of waiting:
• We can do it passively because we have gotten accustomed and grown comfortable in our status quo;
• We might pretend that we are waiting like the others but what others desire is not a priority in our lives;
• We might be waiting anxiously because we have doubts about the fulfilment or are not sure of the outcome;
• Or we might see the waiting time as an opportunity to do our part in becoming more receptive to the accomplishment of the promise and the new life that is given to us.
In the meantime, we are waiting. We can even run the risk, with all the lockdown restrictions, that the Christmas promise becomes secondary to the vaccine one. It will pass us by as a simple one-off Christmas, best not to be repeated.
This year we have not been alien towards vigil. The pandemic has ushered us into a season of unexpected vulnerability, dependency on others, face to face with the unknown, and exposed the basics of human nature. As Church we waddled with humanity to make sense of what was happening to us and tried to decipher the signs of the times: do we pitch tent in these conditions or just wait for the storm to pass? The answer comes to us in mixed feelings of success and failure stories. In the future we would surely be able to make a much better assessment. In the meantime, we are waiting. We can even run the risk, with all the lockdown restrictions, that the Christmas promise becomes secondary to the vaccine one. It will pass us by as a simple one-off Christmas, best not to be repeated.
Some days ago, I was near the nativity crib at St. Peter Square. Without entering into the argument whether these last century, futuristic ceramic statues, merit to be there representing our faith, I was struck by one pervading thought. This strange representation, lacking the emotional warmth associated with Christmas, was shouting loud uncomfortable truths:
• God came and still comes to us in the least expected ways
• Incarnation is about God taking the shape of the least and the less beautiful
• God’s salvation breaks down our fantasies, reshapes our expectations, and surprises us with its creativity. God gives us a new narrative.
This Christmas will be one to be remembered. What we will remember it for very much depends on our current stance in life:
• If we cling to our status quo, we will wait out the pandemic till normality adopts us again in its bosom. We will have something to talk about in the future but probably understand nothing. Christmas might feel unwelcomed this year or not real. God’s salvation does not fit our program.
• If anxiety about our future tends to challenge our hope, then maybe we are still in a position to realise that the crib is set, and there is a great probability that God will notice our struggles and pitch his tent right in our midst despite of the pandemic. God’s presence thrives in these conditions. With the psalmist we are invited to utter a heartfelt cry to God to wake up.
• If we are at home with God’s ways then we rejoice in God’s surprises. Notwithstanding our global current crises, God will yet again embrace humanity and nudge it forward by shaking us up.
Dear brothers and sisters in the Paulist missionary Charism, this is the appointed time in the purpose of God, the Kairos moment, when we are called to bring good tidings to all people of good will. In simplicity we can witness that God is the Emanuel everywhere and at all times. In generosity we risk all we possess to incarnate God in the poverty around us, becoming one with the needy. In faith we continue to mature even this year, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Once again, I would like to take this occasion to thank all of you for the love and energy you are putting in all the missionary ministries entrusted to us, and for keeping each other in our prayers.
Fr Mark Grima mssp