And so Advent begins. Some of us are ready: our wreaths are out, our calendars prepared, our readings marked. Some of us, on the other hand, are feeling already overloaded as the year seems to accelerate toward Christmas. Ready or not, though, it’s here.
I’ve recently been reading some of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s writings, and the other day I came across his homily at the First Vespers of Advent in 2009. “Advent,” he writes, “this powerful liturgical season that we are beginning, invites us to pause in silence to understand a presence. It is an invitation to understand that the individual events of the day are hints that God is giving us, signs of the attention he has for each one of us.”
I found that passage particularly powerful. I’ve always associated Advent with words like waiting, anticipation, promise, hope. This was the first time, though, that I realized all those words are missing something important: presence. We’re not anticipating a presence: it’s already here, the days and nights of Advent imbued with the fragrance, the feeling, the taste of God’s very being in our midst.
Once upon a time, Isaiah promised Emmanuel, and Israel waited. For seven hundred years, Israel waited. Imagine the changes that took place in that time, the ways that culture and government and even the physical world around them changed! But what didn’t happen was nothing. God was still with his people, God was still present. The promise and the presence shimmered in the air around them, were woven through the daily tasks and events of their lives.
God promised Emmanuel—Emmanual, which means “God with us.” God promised presence, and that is what Advent brings: it’s a reminder, every year, of presence. Advent celebrates God-with-us in ways that are immediate and intimate and real.
Our reflection of this reality can’t leave us to just feel good about God being with us. That presence is a call: a call to act like the God in whose image we were made. We have to remember that God came not just to be with you and me, not just to be celebrated in our cathedrals and parishes, not just to live in carols and feasts and decorated front doors: if God is with us, then he is with all his creation. He is with the derelict, the broken, the needy. He is with the addict and the thief and those who have turned their backs on him. The Good News is for everyone, God’s presence is for everyone.
As we reflect on Jesus who is God-with-us, we can't help but wonder what would be different if we ourselves today showed this God-with-us to the world, if we worshiped God and revealed him living and active among us still. Are we showing lonely people God-present-with-us through being present with them?
Perhaps you participated in #GivingTuesday. Your parish may have outreach programs. There are myriad ways you can help others. But as Pope Benedict wrote, Advent calls us to one thing: presence. It calls us to be with people. That’s pretty simple, there’s not a lot of misunderstanding possible, and it’s something everyone can do.
Everybody’s busy, but here's what I think the message of Advent is for all of us: when you get the call to have a coffee with a friend or neighbor, go do it. Better still, make the call yourself. Go to the office get-togethers, the pre-Christmas parties, the luncheons and the gift exchanges and the neighborhood celebrations. Your gift of your presence isn’t just a nice thing to do: it’s reflecting Emmanuel, God-with-us, the presence of the Source of all joy. Be the presence that the world needs, even if in the smallest of ways.
What are you waiting for?
by Jeannette de Beauvoir