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2019 - 1st Sunday of Advent

“We wait in joyful hope.”

We hear these words every Sunday after the Lord’s Prayer, but as is so often the case with words, we can hear them without truly hearing them, without letting them penetrate our consciousness and understanding.

If we were to reflect on our typical posture towards waiting, I suspect many of us would admit that we rarely wait in joyful hope in our everyday lives. More often than not, we wait either in annoyance or in fearful anxiety. Our daily busy lives are full of moments of waiting: long lines at the grocery store, unexpected traffic, travel delays, long car lines at school pick-ups. Often our annoyance stems from our perception that all these other people are in our way and keeping us from checking off items on our ever-growing to-do lists. So we wait begrudgingly, thinking of all the other things we could be accomplishing if only the line would move.

Even more unsettling, we sometimes have to wait for longer periods of time for uncertain outcomes that are out of our control: waiting for medical test results, news from loved ones, the birth of a child, a spouse’s return from military service, the outcome of an immigration case. These long periods of waiting can be punctuated by fear and anxiety. We fill the time with worst-case scenarios and try to keep ourselves busy in order to keep our worst fears at bay. So we wait anxiously, thinking of all the things that could go wrong.

It is our hope that saves us from either of these default settings. As Pope Benedict acknowledges, “The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life.” Our hope allows us to live differently, to be disciples with hope to bring. Advent is a season of waiting and an opportunity to choose to live in hope, to wait in joyful hope.

Instead of annoyance, we can choose to see the times when we are forced to wait as small moments of grace, as opportunities to exercise compassion and to see God at work in those around us. As David Foster Wallace wrote, our ability to choose hope allows us to experience a crowded, hot, slow line as “not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.”

Our hope in the cross allows us to wait in joyful hope rather than fearful anxiety. We know that we are able to bear suffering and to accompany those who suffer because Christ suffered, but He conquered death and suffering to offer us hope in eternal life. This hope does not eliminate suffering, fear, or anxiety, but teaches us how to bear it and to help others bear it–to be disciples with hope to bring for those who have forgotten how to hope.

This Advent, let us set aside our to do lists, slow down our busy lives, and choose to wait in joyful hope as we prepare our hearts to receive the baby Jesus. Living in this hope will allow us to pray

When every night is winter,
And every town is Bethlehem,
And every inn seems filled,
And on every ear those words are heard,
“Will you let me in?”
May we have eyes to see the star
May we have ears to hear the choir,
May we have hearts that finally speak:

Yes, yes, by all means, come in.
Come in and stay. Amen.

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