It has been many years since I was a seminary student, but I remember vividly an Advent homily given by one of my classmates during our Deacon year. He preached on today’s second reading from the Letter of James. The author writes, “Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord.” (Jas. 5:7)
My classmate compared Advent to a Heinz Catsup commercial that was playing on television at the time. The commercial showed a consumer holding a Heinz Catsup bottle upside down and waiting patiently for the catsup to begin to flow. If I remember correctly, the tagline of the commercial was, “The taste that’s worth the wait.”
My classmate used the commercial’s tagline as an introduction to explaining the meaning of Advent. In his homily, he made the point that Advent, a period of extended waiting before Christmas, had great value; it was worth the wait in order to be ready for the coming of the Savior.
At the time, I thought the homily was an effective, easily-understood way of depicting Advent as a season of joyful expectation. Advent is a season dedicated to celebrating the fact that, just as the world once waited for the birth of the Savior, we now wait for his return in glory and the fullness of the Kingdom of God. If there was ever anything worth the wait, it is the Lord’s glorious return.
Recently, however, I find that I am less enthusiastic about the virtue of waiting. As I’ve aged, I’ve found that I’ve grown very impatient. I don’t like waiting in line at the grocery store and I’m reluctant to buy green bananas because I’m no longer certain that I’ll live long enough to see them ripen. I’ve found that, even during Advent, I am unwilling to wait.
It is a central aspect of the Catholic belief system that we await the coming of the fullness of God’s Kingdom. For that reason, the patient expectation of Advent is more than a mere ascetic discipline; it is an act of faith. Nevertheless, I do not view Advent as I did when I was younger. Today, I would like to experience some of God’s Kingdom without having to wait any longer.
It would be very consoling, I think, if we could enjoy now “the glory of the Lord and the splendor of our God.” (Isa. 35:2) Everyone, even the amoral and the irreligious, would love to live in a world filled “with joy and gladness,” where “sorrow and mourning will flee.” (Isa. 35:10) Fortunately, the Scriptures assure us that it is a very real possibility to live in God’s Kingdom now, at least to a limited degree.
After the admonition to wait patiently for the Lord’s return, the Letter of James instructs us to stand firm in faith, to avoid complaining, and to refrain from judging others. These are not merely suggestions about how to while away one’s hours while awaiting the Lord’s return. These are instructions about how to live now as if God’s Kingdom had already come in glory, albeit to a limited degree.
If everyone on the planet kept faith, avoided complaining, and refrained from judging others, it might not make the world perfect but it would make the world nearly perfect. We could live a nearly ideal existence here on earth if all of us were trustworthy, content, and forgiving. This is where all the difference is made by being unwilling to wait.
For the most part, when one engages in wishful thinking about finding some reasonable degree of bliss in this world, one’s mind turns automatically to how other people should change their behavior in order to make one happier and less troubled. This line of conjecture is precisely the reason that this world is not a place filled “with joy and gladness,” where “sorrow and mourning will flee.” (Isa. 35:10) It is the innate tendency of human nature to wait for others to reform their lives in the expectation that better behavior from other people will create the necessary pre-conditions for one’s own happiness. Sadly, each of us condemns ourselves to live in the absence of joy and gladness; we do so by waiting for someone else to take the initiative to act.
Although it is necessary to wait for the fullness of God’s Kingdom, it is possible to have now some small experience of the joy and gladness of that Kingdom. Such joy is possible, however, only for those who are not content to wait for others to change. The Kingdom approaches now for those who repent, act faithfully, avoid complaining, and refrain from judging. That’s something worth not waiting for any longer.