December 10, 2023 Essay: The Waiting is the Hardest Part
After reading this essay title, Tom Petty fans are probably humming the chorus to one of my favorites of his. The second Sunday of Advent, indeed ALL of Advent, is about waiting. Each week, we light the candles of the Advent wreath to commemorate the 4,000 years God’s People waited for the Messiah. For a child, however, Advent can be a sort of “holy countdown” to the main event—Christmas and Santa. When you are little, the waiting truly IS the hardest part of December.
As I get a little older and the more commercial and secular Christmas becomes, the more I treasure Advent. It’s as if the Church has given us extra time to prepare for the sacred season. It’s like when you have guests coming over for dinner, and that 5 PM work meeting has been canceled. Suddenly, you have a little more time to prepare and be ready to welcome your guests with calm and joy. This is the gift of the season.
I love everything about Advent—the readings, the colors, and especially the music. Today’s reading from Isaiah is particularly beautiful. It starts with words of comfort—desperately needed when Isaiah wrote them, and especially now, given the trauma of terrorism and loss of life in the Holy Land. How can we respond to these words? Isaiah gives us a roadmap—to prepare the way of the Lord by dedicating ourselves to loving Him and our fellow neighbor. We should measure our holiday hustle against these benchmarks: do our activities help us better love God and serve our neighbor? If not, maybe some of them this year and see how it affects our view and experience of Christmas.
What are some concrete ways to do this?
Get to know God better. In addition to Mass during Advent, commit to attending one of the educational events at St. Ignatius. Reading the Bible is another way to better understand God and His plan for us all. This can be daunting, but this year, I have done The Bible in a Year on the Hallow app. You can start any time of the year and go at your own pace—each session is about 22 minutes. Doing this over the year has helped me recognize the readings in Mass and their overall place in salvation history. Finally, find God through the experiences of others of faith. In working on the Mary Project, an interfaith discussion of Mary from the Catholic and Muslim traditions, I have seen the faithfulness of Mary and the presence of God in our world through a different lens, and I am making new friends, too!
Sing a new song. Advent has arguably some of the most beautiful music of the season. Take some time and learn a new hymn and ALL its lyrics. Be sure to sing in Mass no matter what you think of your musical ability! My favorite is Comfort, Comfort, O My People, which is like today’s reading. One beautiful setting is the video by Ignatian Scola on YouTube. St. Augustine said, “He/She who sings prays twice.” Think about that the next time you are in Mass! Be sure to attend one of our parish’s Christmas concerts—today at 3 PM and December 17th at 3 PM. Both are beautiful and have ample opportunity for audience participation.
Reach out to your neighbor. Yes, there is plenty of opportunity for charitable donations this time of year, but in addition to those, reach out to family or friends you haven’t heard from in a while or a neighbor down the hall. Invite a friend feeling overwhelmed by the holiday to Mass or one of our concerts.
Each of these is a way for you to do a little bit to make straight the highway for our God. Happy Advent…happy waiting!
— Simon Vinocour McKeever, Chair, Ignatian Interfaith Ministry