Commentary

Enjoying the wait

Originally Appeared in : 9724-11/23/17

I’ve written a version of this paragraph before. And you’ve read a version of this paragraph in the past. The other day I went to a dollar store looking for some fall stickers for my grandchildren’s Thanksgiving craft. Although it was two weeks before Thanksgiving, the fall display had shrunk to some autumn tablecloths and napkins. Christmas merchandise consumed aisles and aisles. Christmas promotions have been in the stores and on the airwaves since well before Halloween. 

 

We should be accustomed to this by now, and yet we still lament. When my own children, now well into their twenties and thirties, were young, I was disturbed by the encroachment of Christmas merchandise. Nothing has improved since then. Indeed, the commercialism has grown worse. 

 

So, I think we who are disturbed by too much Christmas commercialism at the wrong time should surrender. Those of us who want to celebrate each holiday in its time have no choice but to vacate the battlefield. Christmas consumption has won. 

 

There’s little chance we’ll restore among American consumers an appreciation for Advent and for extending the Christmas season beyond December 26. We’re on our own.

 

So what should we do? Here are some suggestions that have nothing to do with seasonal decorations, shopping, or baking.

 

Cultivate patience. Advent is the season of hopeful waiting. And the best waiting is accomplished with patience, a virtue that seems in short supply these days. With whom should we have patience? Everyone, including distracted drivers, antsy children, co-workers, angry customers, overwhelmed store clerks and wait staff. 

 

Perhaps even more important is cultivating patience as we wait for those close to us, family members and dear friends, to embrace our own values. Adult children who don’t go to Mass? Have patience. Friends raising their children in ways with which we disagree? Have patience. Relatives who get under our skin at our holiday celebrations? Have patience. 

 

 

Practice Incarnational Theology.

During Advent we expect the coming of Christ. This coming of Christ is not only the baby in the manger and the Second Coming we anticipate in the fullness of time. Christ comes to us in the here and now, and Advent is our opportunity to be more aware of Christ’s presence in our daily lives. Just imagine what our society would be like if every Christian who laments the commercialism of the holiday would recognize Christ’s presence in every encounter. 

 

Christ is present to us in members of our family, in the stranger, in the poor, in the lonely, in the person is who mentally ill. Christ is present in the person on the other side of the political aisle. Christ is present in the incarcerated men and women we too often lock away and forget or demonize. Christ is present in the very rich and, especially, we are told, in the very poor. Christ is present in the immigrant, documented or not. If we can harden our hearts to people with whom we disagree – or people we see as less deserving than ourselves or people we believe are “breaking the law” – we harden our hearts to Christ’s coming. Christ didn’t put conditions on his love for people. 

 

Listen.

When I’m expecting someone to arrive at my home or office, I pay attention. I listen for a car in the driveway, the doorbell, footsteps down the hall. Listening well is something we do consciously. Regretfully, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve only half-listened. So many times when my children were small I pretended to listen when I didn’t. Too often, in a conversation, I divert my attention to something else happening in the room. If only I could “do over” some of those conversations. Imagine what I’ve missed, opportunities I can never recover with grown children or deceased friends and relatives. 
And what about listening to one another’s opinions? Too quickly we are eager in conversation or social media to jump on someone who disagrees with us, criticizes, or dares to dissent. We fail to listen to them because what they have to say threatens us. Yet we can never find common ground if we fail to listen. 
Listening to the word of God is crucial to our Advent preparation. We are nourished by God’s word and provided wisdom to discern God’s will. 

 

Surrender the need to be right.

This practice is particularly challenging. The times I’ve succeeded in surrendering my need to be right are rare. Perhaps this is because I feel passionately about some issues. And yet what happens if I let someone else have the last word? Does that mean I have conceded? Not at all. 

 

It means that I have surrendered my need to come out “on top." That’s all. Wanting to best a perceived opponent has become standard practice in our culture. Those of us who continue to hammer home a point are not converting anyone to our side. We drive people away or cause them to close their ears to our message. 

 

Work for justice and peace.

 When a person or groups of people are deemed inferior, mistreated, and marginalized we are called to advocate for them. Our faith teaches that each human person is imbued with dignity and value. We are also called to be peacemakers to protect the life of every child of God. We are called to seek nonviolent resolutions to conflict. 

 

When announcing his public mission, Jesus read from the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4: 17-21)

 

At our baptism and confirmation, we were anointed to follow Jesus on this mission. If we haven’t been advocating for justice and making peace, Advent is the perfect time to start. 

 

Mary Hood Hart is a freelance writer and educator living in Pittsboro, NC. She can be reached at maryhoodhart@gmail.com.

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