I have a confession to make. When I was a child, attending after-school day-care, the care-takers would get out the cots and start giving us the back rubs that signaled that it was “nap time.” I would curl up under the blanket and shut my eyes and breathe more deeply…but I never fell asleep; I only pretended. I never actually fell asleep because I was too excited for who was coming.
You see, my mom worked at the elementary school connected to the day-care and she would always come pick me in the middle of “nap time.” So while the other kids were dozing off into sweet slumber, I was attentively listening and hoping for the moment my mom would be there to take me home. My ears would perk up at every creak I heard. I would forget I was faking sleep and open my eyes at murmurs coming down the hall. And I would strain my ears for the sound of her jingling key ring and the familiar squeak in her sneaker.
I understood the idea of “joyful anticipation,” better as a child than I do now. I practiced “quiet watchfulness” better as a child than I do now. And as a child, I knew how to wait in quiet watchfulness, how to practice hope in anticipation, because I knew who I was waiting for.
These are the attitudes that the season of Advent aims to foster. Yet the power of this season can often be missed by a multitude of distractions that pull our attention away from “waiting quietly.” Our culture certainly doesn't encourage lifestyles of quiet awareness, especially during this loud, busy holiday season. And our generation certainly isn't practiced at “waiting” for much anymore with information and connection and consumer goods a mouse-click away.
I know all of these things distract me from practicing quiet watchfulness for Christ, not just in Advent but throughout my life. I constantly fail to create quiet spaces where I can grow in awareness of Christ in my life. And this foreboding idea of the return of Christ is really rather more frightening to me than exciting or hopeful.
But one of the biggest reasons I struggle with “quiet watchfulness” as an adult, is because I don’t who I’m waiting for anymore. When I was a child fake-napping in day-care, I knew what I was listening for and I knew who to expect when I heard my mother’s familiar noises. And I waited with such excitement because I knew my mother’s presence meant being saved from the boredom of day-care. I knew I was waiting quietly for a savior.
When I think about Christ as an adult, I don’t get excited about the idea of a baby born in a manger. I don’t think about Christ as my best friend and I don’t look for fuzzy, warm experiences that I can call Christ’s presence in my life. But when I think about Christ as a Savior, I think maybe I still do understand “waiting in quiet watchfulness.”
When I look around and see the consequences of systematic oppression, when I hear some of the powerful stories of my students, when I see the effects of hatred and bias and broken people and their broken love, I feel hopeless. When I strive to lead a life that fights for justice and realize just how little one person can do in the vast amount of work to be done, I feel overwhelmed. So when I think about the idea of Christ as a Savior from these things, I can get excited. When I think of Christ as a bringer of justice and peace in the world, I can understand the laments and history of the Jews who waited years for a Messiah to save them from oppression and I can understand their confusion when he seemed at first to just be a carpenter’s son riding on a donkey. When I think of the salvific power that will come from that Christ-child in the manger, I can get excited about Christmas and the idea of waiting hopefully for that power to return.
But I’m not just waiting quietly for Christ the Saviour, I’m watching for him with hope. And I see him when I see his Body at work.
Paul calls us to be Christ’s body alive and active in the world. I get filled with excitement when I see groups of people working for peace, when I see the world reacting to the recent incidences of national discrimination or the injustices occurring just across the border or across an ocean. I get filled with hope when I see glimpses of humility or love or restoration in relationships that overcome our sinful inclinations. My heart fills with anticipation, joyful anticipation, to continue to see what Christ’s Body will look like in our world.
So I wait quietly for the return of a Saviour. The Reedemer. The Light of the World. The Prince of Peace.
And I watch him work in the Body of volunteers who have taken a year to grow in justice and love. I watch him in the many speakers we have encountered this year who have incorporated that spark for justice into lifestyles. And everyday when I walk into Our Lady of Tepeyac, the site I teach at, I’m reminded to not just wait quietly but actively as the first thing I see are the words of Pope Paul VI hanging above the main door: “If you want peace, work for justice.”
I invite you this Advent, to spend some time reflecting on who you are waiting for with hope and anticipation. Because just the like the child pretending to sleep during nap time, I’m wide awake and watchful once I know who I’m looking for.