We have entered into the Season of Advent, the beginning of a new year in the church when we are all expectantly waiting for Christmas. Many people are waiting for something specific to happen: a family that has a child with cancer awaits test results; another family stands vigil while an elder begins the journey home. As we all know, we’re all on that same journey but others are closer to the destination. Whatever the case, people wait and they try to prepare for whatever comes.
However, no matter how hard we try, we are seldom completely prepared for an outcome, especially if it is not one that will bring us joy. Advent can teach us some lessons about waiting. Any mother who carries a child for nine months before birth knows about waiting and how difficult it can become as a due date nears.
Often, if we are expecting a friend or relative to visit, we begin our preparations for that person’s arrival days or even weeks before that date. It has become a tradition that my sister makes a special fruit cake for our cousin because the recipe comes from a much loved relative. And this is a fruit cake that requires a month of preparation before it is deemed “ready.” My cousin enjoys the cake tremendously, and the family now knows when preparations are under way. In a way, it signifies the Season of Advent because the cake requires a month of careful “watching” and “moistening” to make sure it is properly prepared. It is one example of careful preparation for another’s celebration that makes it special at this time of year.
As we age, our traditions become more and more important. The way we prepare for this time of year becomes trans generational, especially if we do it intentionally. Teachable moments emerge as a child sees the family crèche, learns about how it became a part of the family Christmas. Collecting food and other items for needy people can give youngsters a sense of how much they have and how great a need exists.
As we prepare to begin the Jubilee Year of Mercy, we need to make sure we not only know the Corporal Works of Mercy but also that we practice them within our places of work, our parishes, our communities, and especially in our homes. If parents are their children’s first teachers, we need to be mindful of the messages we send — especially those without need for technology to make things clear.
So many people already give generously to others, finding creative ways to fulfill a need. Often, they help quietly and prefer to do things that way. They don’t seek notoriety or even gratitude as they go about their days of lifting people up, trying to make a difference in someone’s life, realizing that sometimes a smile, or taking time to listen to someone can be as important as donations that keep the lights on in so many places. Make Advent special this year.