Advent is a time of anticipation in joyful hope, something the Blessed Mother knows all about!
Each of us spends many hours waiting. We wait in lines at the grocery store or at WalMart, we wait for children’s sports, we wait for someone to come home, or for someone to visit us. Advent, too, is about waiting, but it’s a different kind of waiting. Advent is not impatient waiting; it’s waiting in joy, in hope, in anticipation. The Blessed Virgin Mary has much to teach us about that.
Luke’s Gospel is our key to Mary’s lessons. One important thing that Luke tells us is that Mary pondered, “And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” We see time and again that she was a woman of prayer. Attentive to the Spirit moving within her, Mary went from waiting to action. Early in her pregnancy she traveled to help her cousin Elizabeth, who was with child in her old age. “During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to the town of Judah,” Luke tells us. That was in Elizabeth’s sixth month; Mary must have stayed with her for three months more. No doubt it was three months worth of hard work, confounded by the newly muted Zechariah in the house!
What can we learn from waiting? Perhaps we’re busy during these weeks, but people around us are waiting. Do we ever think of them that way? In two mission counties in Middle Tennessee, Macon and Clay, I look around and see many people waiting. The Holy Spirit stirs within me, and I feel called toward action.
In Macon County, we have been waiting five years to open some kind of shelter for people who have no home. Like what will happen to the Holy Family, pregnant and struggling as they arrive late in Bethlehem, they are looking for a place to stay, even a night where they could sleep securely. I know Joan, a woman who has been living in her truck for the last six years. She worries each night that someone might come and harm her. I know another man living in a cold shack behind an abandoned hamburger place. He’s waiting for a better place to stay, and maybe someone to listen to him. We can give him warm covers. He is waiting. We are waiting, as we bring together local ministers to move the homeless shelter from dream to reality.
I talked to a man who recently was in jail. He’s out now, but waiting to find a job. Even in these times of labor shortage, it seems nobody wants to hire him because he’s been in jail. He is waiting for someone to give him a chance. Will someone who can hire him be stirred to move beyond fear and prejudice? I wait with him, in hope for a better future.
I know Becky, one of a score of elderly people who do nothing but wait. Some wait in hope, wanting to experience newness in death and the promise of resurrection. Becky is waiting and waiting, in the hope of being with her husband in heaven. In our parishes we wait alongside them. We are people of hope to Becky and others who live in the nursing home. We know we are only scratching the surface, but each person we encounter is an opportunity for hope. I always tell them, “Your life encourages me; your life gives me hope for mine; your life is a treasure.” Our presence is like Christmas for them and for us. It is a renewal of life.
There is a family of Mexican immigrants here, one of many temporary workers who come to do grueling work during tobacco harvest season. This family has been waiting for someone to help their hearing-impaired son. Thank God one of Glenmary’s supporters took action and provided funds for a hearing aid. That boy’s life will be different. Our Advent readings from Isaiah tell us, “the deaf will hear.” The Spirit has stirred within us to help make that a reality.
Another immigrant family dreams that their children will go to school. So their parents work day in and day out, working and waiting in hope. They dream that God is providing for them a way toward a better life. So they live in the barracks out in the tobacco fields, where temporary migrant laborers must live, working and hoping. They ask for a priest to come and say Mass at their barracks. They gratefully receive the 50 gift packages of personal supplies our parishioners prepare for them. They, and we, wait and work in joy-filled hope.
The whole notion of our Advent waiting is not merely to go about our lives, happy about the coming Christmas. Yes, we wait in peace and expectation, but, as Mary shows us, we do something good. For her, it was running to the aid of her cousin who needed help. The women laughed together as their cousin sons, Jesus and John, made their presence known, Luke tells us. This Advent, how can we open our hearts to hear Jesus stirring within us? How can you and I move beyond ourselves to help the people around us?
— Father Vic Subb
This story first appeared in the Winter 2021 edition of Glenmary Challenge magazine.