Advent signals the beginning of a new liturgical year. It is a time to be reflective, be alert and be prepared. Prepared for what?
The scripture readings give ample description — we can focus on the coming of the Christ child into the world, not only in the context of 2,000 plus years ago, but the significance of Christ in our midst now.
Or we can focus on being prepared for Christ coming “again at the end of time.” We are invited to hold both the beginning and the end at the same time, and we use the contrasting symbols of light and darkness, joy and suffering to embrace the totality of the season. Sometimes a story will illustrate best the paradox of waiting and already having arrived.
Just as Mary and Joseph traveled to Egypt to escape the persecution of Herod, at the U.S.-Mexico border thousands of migrants, with and without children have been traveling over dangerous routes, overcoming perilous barriers to escape violence, poverty and environmental degradation only to be told there is no room for them. The causes of these migrations are significant and extend beyond personal choices.
Mothers are giving birth under terrible circumstances, without a safe place to recover and celebrate their new life. Children are separated from their families, and parents must sacrifice the wonder of guiding their children through life because they are trying to provide for their safety and basic needs.
The dream of a better life, a life free from fear, hunger, and persecution must surely sustain them on the journey. It is the “not yet,” it is the dark night of their souls, the dark night of their lives.
But the resilience that is visible cannot be denied. The belief that God is “already” on their side lights their way. They show us the way to hold the waiting and the hope together with the assurance that God is with them.
At the Maryknoll Lay Missioners’ 2023 Covenant and Mission Sending Mass last Saturday in El Paso, Texas, Bishop Mark Seitz said that Maryknollers are “a bunch of dreamers.” He reminded us that it is God who dreams within us. Those who have nothing this world values are not afraid to dream of a world turned upside down.
It is a beautiful compliment then to be called a dreamer. It is also a call to embrace the totality of what is and what is yet to be.
The season of Advent calls us to live in the space of hope and expectation while also being awake to the pain and suffering in the world. It is knowing the birth of a child as joyous celebration and anticipation of a journey that requires preparation and bearing the cross. It is living reflectively in the Reign of God already among us and not yet.