Monday, December 3, 2012

The season for waiting has come

There are quite a few images that come to mind when the season of Advent comes upon us.  Of course, the time-honoured images have to do with the spiritual themes of peace, hope and love (charity), and they all have in common the underlying element of joy, which permeates the entire Christmas season to come. 

But what really is the season of Advent in its essence about?  What does the Church really want us to experience and learn from during these four weeks that lead up to the celebration of the birth of the Son of God?  Is there something that the Church knows that the human condition has a certain aversion towards that she believes strongly that we need to re-learn this every year, simply because we are creatures of habit who have an aversion toward something that seems so difficult to overcome?  As I look around me, not just in Singapore but even here in America, I have come to the conclusion that it has a lot to do with waiting.

We human beings seem to have such an inbuilt intolerance towards waiting of any kind.  The technology that we have surrounded ourselves with has not helped but rather exacerbated this allergy in us by making so many things faster in our lives.  In the areas of information and communication, on almost all platforms of our lives, the availability of quick and relatively affordable means of technology has made us as a people more and more impatient and unable to wait.  For anything. 

We are in a hurry to do so much that we find it hard to slow down.  I came across an advertisement in the media on the morning after Thanksgiving here (that’s the last Thursday in November, for non-Americans) and it declared that the Christmas season has officially begun.  “Says who?” I found myself asking internally as my mind tried to comprehend what seemed insane.  Within a week, stores began putting up their Christmas decorations and people were declaring that Christmas was ‘in the air’.  Let me say first of all, that I am neither a humbug nor a wet blanket.  I do love Christmas, but like everything else in life, it has its time and place, and there needs to be a healthy respect for a proper celebration of it.  The problem is that when we cut short the preparation that includes a spiritual and liturgical element, we cheapen the experience and the true meaning of Christmas.  We have become a people who are in a rush to celebrate Christmas when it is not Christmas.

Offices, neighbours and church groups are often known to have Christmas parties weeks before Christmas.  Presents are exchanged and folk greet one another with Christmas joy before it is Christmas.  The irony is that because we have been in such a hurry to enjoy Christmas before Christmas actually arrived, by the time it really does come and it is the true time to celebrate the arrival of the Son of God into our broken humanity to lift it from its sinful state, we have been all but Christmassed-out.  We don’t want to hear another Christmas carol, and we cannot even look at a another log cake or a fruitcake because our bellies have had their fill of them before Christmas came.  We find dust gathered on the Christmas decorations because they had been out for a month already, and many can’t wait to clear them away on 26 December.  Most of us don’t even think we should leave the Christmas decorations up until the Baptism of the Lord in January, when Christmastide is officially over.  All this is because we have not learnt to wait.

But all this impatience didn’t happen overnight, to be sure.  We have become a product of so much impatience on so many other different areas of our lives, that we unthinkingly apply it to Christmas.  But there are very strong elements of impatience in many other areas of our lives.

The fact that the incarnation came through a Virgin is a teaching point for all of us.  It’s not that sex is bad, and that is why God had to come to us via a Virgin.  Apart from the fact that it pointed to God being the only Father of the child Jesus, virginity is itself a statement of a willingness to wait.  The whole sexual revolution came about because of a resistance and an inability to wait.  Many married couples are not able to genuinely celebrate their marriage with a consummation because the 'we did' came long before the 'I do'.  Indeed, there is a general intolerance towards waiting for anything in so many other areas of our lives.  Ronald Rolheiser once said that “Chastity is about proper waiting, and waiting is about patience in carrying the tensions and frustrations we suffer as we live the unfinished symphonies of our lives.”

What needs to be re-appreciated on a deep level is the beauty and virtue of waiting, and waiting well, which trains us for the ability to carry tensions well in our lives.  Aren’t most sins caused because we had no intention of waiting for things to unfold, and we had to have things our way and in our time? 

So, let us really try to wait well this Advent.  Let us not be too quick to organize those Christmas parties till Christmas really comes.  Let us wish each other Merry Christmas only on December 25 and don’t stop till Christmastide is over.  Refrain from playing those Christmas carols at home or on the car CD until Christmas so that you will sustain the joy and hope that Jesus’ birth came to give beyond Christmas day.  And make this Advent a true preparation in spirit and in truth for the one who comes at Christmas to lead us to worship God in spirit and in truth.  


  1. Dear Fr. Luke,

    Thank you for your timely reminder. I wonder; why is it that we start acting as if Christmas was already here in mid-December? Even our church has, in the past, organised Christmas children's parties about a week before Christmas – something that I think is quite odd, to say the least.

    As for “playing those Christmas carols at home or in the car” I think many people do that, so as to, “get into the spirit of Christmas” as the day draws near - as if we could suddenly become “Christmas people” at the press of a play-button(?). Ahem..

    I think though, it has a lot to do with the culture we live in. Department stores, radio stations etc. start playing Christmas songs in early December; and the staff at many stores are decked out in those silly “Santa” outfits. We inescapably get caught up in the whole charade – if we don't pay attention. After all, just about everybody's doing it.

    Actually the last time I played a Christmas song was in July this year! I chanced upon some beautiful recordings and played them at home, singing along with great gusto. My family must have thought I was nuts, but then, we can experience both Christmas and Calvary on the same day, can't we?

    God bless,

  2. Because of Time, we cannot escape Waiting. Ecclesiastes tells us that – ‘’there is a season for everything....a time for giving birth, a time for dying; a time for tears, a time for laughter; a time for mourning, a time for dancing.....’’ and so each moment of our life is stringed into beads of Time. And in the natural order of things/creation, from the birthing to the dying process, time has to pass and so there is the waiting – though like you said, ‘’We human beings seem to have such an inbuilt intolerance towards waiting of any kind..........’’ Perhaps, this is because we take this waiting as a period of inactivity or passivity we become impatient as it seems to be non-productive , a waste of time! However, most of us are very familiar with the imagery of the wheat seed fallen on the ground or buried in the dark soil, undergoing a dying-transformation to growth and hence new life. Waiting.

    Yesterday, called to the bedside of a good friend in the final stage of his illness, he smiled wryly saying that even dying is such a long process...... And yet, I knew from his sharing that he understood and appreciated this waiting period. It was necessary that he had to come to terms with the letting go that was being asked of him. Tears of goodbye hung in our hearts as we grieved at this inevitability, allowing this letting go, grow within us too. This waiting period allowed us to reminisce to say our goodbyes and yet somehow we felt peaceful and strengthened because of the future hope.

    Today, reflecting on this, I felt that waiting is the common thread woven into the rich tapestry of our Catholic faith...................from awaiting the coming of Emmanuel to the Garden of Gethsemane (as he requested his apostles to wait with him) to Calvary, the empty tomb and the Second Coming.
    God bless you, Fr

  3. Dear Fr Luke

    I don't think that it is entirely a bad thing for Christmas carols to be played evenduring advent. While I agree that some retailers go overboard, for myself, everytime I hear a carol like 'Oh Holy Night' or 'Silent Night', the familiar words automatically give me pause, and invokes images of peace and joy which are all part and parcel of the spirit of Christmas. In fact it makes me forward to the actual Christmas day even more. Perhaps it's my own trait to try and make the most of anything good - like mooncake festival where I stuff myself with every imaginable mooncake offering during sale season because I know that there won't be any more of it for an entire year once the mooncake festival has come and gone. Similarly I like the build up to Christma because it's the only time of the year I can listen to my favorite carols without being identified as behaving inappropriately.

    But at the end of the day, Christmas is the peak of all the advent waiting - when we celebrate Jesus' birth (and get to open our presents too :)). I suppose it is how we prepare for it that makes the actual day a special one where we celebrate Jesus' birth with family and dear friends. Thanks for spiritual input and reminder to try and 'delay gratification' though.


  4. Dear Fr Luke,

    Thank you!

    I will always eat my fish-ball last, after my 'mee-kia', minced-pork, fish-cake and mushrooms....with extra-chilli.

    Miss ya!