I just got a text from my older brother the other day. It was a picture of his daughter standing in front of their Christmas tree with a huge smile on her face. It has me really looking forward to flying over to North Carolina to see them all for Christmas. So, I sent him back, “Awesome! Happy Advent. Can’t wait for Christmas!” After texting that to him, it kind of hit me: doesn’t that defeat the whole purpose and point of Advent, if we don’t want to wait until Christmas? And I’m not talking about the kind of waiting where we do nothing until something happens. Maybe waiting is the wrong word for Advent. We’re hoping, we’re anticipating, we’re longing.
Well, down here at the Seminary, we’ve got a lot of things we’re waiting for too. There are the usual things for a bunch of students like us. It seemed like right after we got back from Thanksgiving break, some of us were already looking forward to Christmas break. My class has a couple of big papers due this week, then finals in two weeks, so we’re certainly looking at the end of the semester with some hope and some desire. We’re anticipating some more relaxing time with our families, away from the stresses of school and, yes, we can even use a break from priestly formation from time to time (don’t worry, we still pray and go to Mass!). We just decorated our own Christmas tree, had a big evening prayer service with the Archbishop and priests coming in from all over the Archdiocese, and we’ve got a big Advent wreath right in front of the Altar in our chapel. So we’ve got this Advent thing down, right?
Ok, so we’ve got the decorations, the music, the prayers, and the waiting down (at least for the end of the semester). But are we waiting for the right things? Are we distracted by schoolwork and the stresses that come with seminary formation? What are we longing for more: for the Coming of Christ, or for the end of school? So I’m just going to say it: Don’t let Advent just slip away. Yes, let our focus be on Christmas, but that does not mean we have to wish away these four weeks of getting ready! It’s really tempting here to make ourselves busy at the Seminary, with schoolwork, with meetings, with Liturgical preparation, with wanting to be home for Christmas already.
So all of us need to step back, recognize that Advent is not a time of idly waiting for the Lord, but it’s a time of preparation, of longing. How do we actively long for something or for someone? Well, if it’s someone we can call on the phone, we call them and talk to them. Keep on praying, letting God know that we want Him to come back, to come closer, that we want to see Him. If we’re longing for something we can’t have right away because we’re not quite ready, we make ourselves ready. Fasting is one way we can make ourselves ready. Lent does not need to be the only time of the year we give something up to make ourselves ready. Just think of how much you may hope to have something you’ve given up during Lent by the time Easter comes around. I dare say, let us enter into that spirit here and now, during Advent, too. Let that small desire we have for those sweets, or that TV, or whatever we might give up, remind us of the deeper, realer, and even more important longing we have for Christ to come into our lives.
And if you don’t really have that longing for Christ’s return into your life, we may have something in common. One of my greatest fears is that I don’t want Jesus enough.
I don’t just want to learn about Him while I’m here at the Seminary, I want to learn to long for Him. I can say honestly that it’s very easy for me to be distracted by all the amazing things that are happening all around me. From preparing and singing in the choirs almost every other day now, to spending hours a day on my bike riding around Camarillo, Malibu, and Santa Barbara even, to maybe even taking too seriously my academics (none of which are not excessively bad!), it’s still easy to forget that there should be a longing in my heart that goes beyond all these things! After all, one of our greatest cries during this Advent season is not “Stay where You are, Lord Jesus!” Instead, our whole Church is crying our “Marana tha! Come Lord Jesus!” And will we be ready for Him if we don’t seek conversion this Advent, constant changing of heart? Do we think that when He comes into our lives, truly comes and turns our world upside down for love of us, that nothing will change in us or around us? We need to make ourselves ready, but it’s so easy as to want to just wait out these four weeks until Christmas and pretend that that wait for Christmas was so arduous, so long. No, let us wait actively, let us prepare His way by making ourselves ready, let us desire to long for Him.