Waiting for the Joyful Hope
by Sr Tamsin Mary Geach o.p.
‘Christmas will be cancelled’ was a headline that was running around a week or three ago. Startled at the media warning I looked further only to find that what was in danger, not of cancellation but of some diminishment, was the tide of tinsel and plastic toys, made by slave labour in a country that has barely heard of Christ, reaching our shores this year.
It is a well-worn trope that Catholic Christmas is a different matter from this (so easily cancelled) semi-pagan version beginning somewhere in November, and finishing on New Year’s Day at the latest: Christmas for us begins on Christmas Eve and ends on 6th of January, and what the secular world is pleased to call Christmas barely coincides.
But what are we supposed to do in this season of Advent instead? The reading asked for no passing of premature judgement, and perhaps we should endeavour for no passing of premature Christmas. Instead, the wisdom of the Church says that we wait.
A good spiritual exercise is to look out texts in the scriptures about waiting – pass over the ones about ‘lying in wait’ – that is not the work of a Christian, even on social media, especially in Advent!
Waiting, in the scriptures then becomes a matter of two related themes: Waiting on, and waiting for. The two are inextricably bound up in one another – service is the name of the waiting game. Today, however, so as not to keep you too long, I will focus on a few of the many texts about ‘waiting for’ the Lord.
Waiting is penitential, especially when things are bad, and it can seem pointless and endless: many texts in scripture reflect this, for example, psalm 69: ‘Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold…. I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God’ or this from the book of Job: Job: ‘But when I looked for good, evil came; and when I waited for light, darkness came.’
Holy writ urges patience and trust upon us: Our prayer is that of the psalmist ‘For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him. 6 He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. (Ps. 62) or this, from Psalm 130: ’My soul is waiting for the Lord, I count on his word. My soul is longing for the Lord more than watchman for daybreak. Let the watchman count on daybreak and Israel on the Lord. Because with the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.’
In the book of Judith we read that we should not seek to ‘bind the purposes of the Lord our God; for God is not like man, to be threatened, … to be won over by pleading. Therefore, while we wait for his deliverance, let us call upon him to help us, and he will hear our voice, if it pleases him. ‘(Judith 8. 16.ff) We should not be overwhelmed by the seeming mastery of evil in the world, or seek to exact vengeance. Instead we hear from this, from Proverbs 20.22: ‘Do not say, “I will repay evil”; wait for the Lord, and he will help you.’ We are to ‘Wait for the Lord, and keep to his way, and he will exalt you to possess the land; you will look on the destruction of the wicked.’ (Ps. 37.34)
We should feel confidence in the covenant faithfulness of our God, a theme reiterated again and again throughout the scriptures: ‘Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; yea, wait for the Lord!’ (Ps. 27.14).
Deliverance from evil however is not the sum of our hope, as we read in Sirach: ‘ you who fear the Lord, hope for good things, for everlasting joy and mercy.’ (Sirach 2.8-9)
As we read in Romans, we, with the whole creation, wait ‘with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God;(Rom. 8.19), and ‘groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Rom. 8.23)
The Lord will rescue us ‘from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog’ and set our feet ‘upon a rock’ , put a ‘new song’ of praise in our mouths (ps. 40.1-3)
Do we ‘wait for the joyful hope’ of His coming? I watched some children at Mass taking in the lighting of the third candle on the Advent wreath, being filled with joy because Christmas was almost here. We too should long in the same way, or more, for the day to come, when we shall ‘see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.’
Then, as the Prophet Isaiah prophesied
‘The Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wine on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wine on the lees well refined. 7 And he will destroy on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. 8 He will swallow up death for ever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth; for the Lord has spoken.
9 It will be said on that day, “Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”’ (Isaiah 25.6ff)