As we approach the end of the Advent season and embrace the spirit of the Christmas season, let me offer this reflection.
Because we Christians have regularly entered into the four-year period of Advent for a very long time through the centuries, there are times when we hardly give full attention to the significance of this period. This is especially here in the Philippines where we anticipate Christmas so early that we begin to already prepare by September, looking forward to the festivities and celebrations that come with Christmas and New Year.
I confess that I am no exception especially since our work in the missions keep us so busy that there really is very little time to do serious reflection. However, it was different for me this year on account of a serious and life-threatening illness requiring hospitalization. As the Advent season began I went through an agonizing ordeal in an ICU in a hospital in Manila.
The days went very slow as there were complications in the medical procedures including undergoing two operations so I could be provided the means towards a peritoneal dialysis system. This meant having to endure the pains, the inconveniences and boredom of being confined in a room without a window. For the next three weeks, there was no end in sight, no definite word from the doctors as to when I could be discharged.
It was in the midst of these sufferings that it dawned on me that the Christian world had just entered the Advent season and I was provided a rare opportunity to reflect on its true meaning vis-à-vis my current experience of waiting. In my mind, I recalled the biblical narrative of God’s promise to send the Messiah to God’s chosen people. However, they waited and waited and no Messiah appeared in their midst. Generations after generations from Abraham to just before the birth of Joseph waited.
As per the genealogical account in Matthew (which is read during the second day of the Aguinaldo Masses), there were 14 generations from Abraham to David, another 14 generations from David to the Babylonian captivity and another 14 generations from this captivity to Joseph.
Thus, forty-two generations of the Chosen people waited and waited until finally God fulfilled God’s promise.
Waiting is never easy, in some countries there is such value attached to punctuality that latecomers can be penalized in various ways. In countries like ours, we may not be so insistent on punctuality but still we do get pissed off if we have we wait too long. It is so easy to become impatient once we are forced to wait.
Today we are confronted with global, national and local problems that we hope could be resolved soonest. Thus we ask questions like: When will this pandemic totally end so that there are no more infections and we do not have to wear masks anymore? When will the Ukraine war end? When will oil prices stop increasing which has resulted in increases in costs of living not to mention causing havoc for households in need of adequate heating in countries now in the grip of winter? When will human rights violations end in authoritarian regimes? When will we stop destroying our common home and to finally cut down on the use of fossil fuels? When will there be an end to the dislocation of indigenous peoples from their ancestral domain? And so on, and so forth.
We have prayed so long so that these problems could be resolved and yet things seem to worsen. We have stormed the heavens seeking God’s intervention and yet at times we believe God no longer listens to our prayers. We’ve waited and waited for God’s mercy but we are almost at the point of despair and there is still no sign that the light will soon take over the darkness. And like Jesus on the cross we ask God: why have you abandoned us?
It was while lying on my hospital bed asking God when my pain and suffering would end that a thought came to my mind. Human beings have a way of reducing God into our anthropomorphic status, that is, as if God’s existence is the same as mortal beings. God is God and God’s ways are different as ours. In terms of existential reality, God is Almighty and thus is above it all. Everything takes place in God’s own time, and not within our own timeframe.
This I thought was the significance of Advent. That God’s promise would be fulfilled in the fullness of time, in God’s own time. And it did when Joseph and Mary needed to journey and ended up in Bethlehem. Humanity just has to wait until God’s time is up! Meanwhile, we might have to take full advantage of the moment of waiting to be ready for the eventuality of the fulfillment of our hearts’ desire.
That became a source of comfort for me even as the agonizing ordeal in the hospital persisted. For I knew that in God’s time, my confinement would end. And it did, a month after in time for the celebration of the Christmas season!