First Sunday of Advent | November 29, 2020

Nichols Trees in Lyme, NH.

Amid a holiday season consumed by cancellations, there are those contemplating what will really be different this year and what will remain the same. Economists analyze American spending habits, attempting to anticipate if consumers will bolster businesses seeking to stay afloat. Journalists wonder whether anything could possibly cancel Christmas, predicting that a people fatigued by a pandemic can be expected to fall back on cultural norms. But perhaps more personally, this year really questions all of us about our behavior. I don’t think that needs to be a bad thing.

With questioning comes reevaluation, then assessment, then opportunity. It is a chance to take steps, even small ones, to move in our desired direction. In a homily delivered by Sr. Terry Richard, OP of Catholic Women Preach, she recalls an early experience of the pandemic. Seeking solace, she goes for a run to exhale her lament to God, only to discover a graced message scribbled on the sidewalk in chalk. It read, “Hope will not be cancelled.” This was an encounter that encouraged her to look at her posturing in suffering and decide how to move forward. At a time when people are rethinking the ways in which we celebrate while yearning for what we know, God reminds us where we can place our confidence. Christ is coming, regardless of the variables.

Despite their suffering, the Israelites embody this kind of steadfast confidence in our first reading. It begins and ends in a proclamation of a faithful relationship, one of a parent and child. In spite of it all, of misdeeds or guilt or the hardness of hearts, Isaiah writes, “we are the clay and you (God) the potter: we are all the work of your hands” (IS 64:7). No matter what happens, God is always extending Himself to us, always desiring that we turn to the Lord and be saved. In the hope of God coming to dwell with us as one of us, is the hope that we will also become like His Son.

I’m usually firm on when Christmas is celebrated. Holidays are intended to be marked in succession, each with its own purpose, plus I can only listen to so much Christmas music. But this year has been different for more than one reason. The most important change, even more so than the unpredictability of now, is that my children are another year older. Lucy is 3 ½, and Connor will be 2 in March. Their participation in our faith as a community, in the waiting of Advent and the joy of Christmas, has a newness to it that makes me wonder: how am I waiting?

In our Gospel reading, Jesus’s call to watch is tinged with the fear of uncertainty. It is a common feeling that has saturated our landscape, and is also well-known to Mark’s audience. His was a community that believed the second coming was close at hand. But our Lord’s call to stay awake can inform our watchfulness this Advent Season, for we know where we can place our confidence. To welcome the Incarnation into our hearts, we must wait and watch with joy. For me, inviting Christmas a little early strengthens me to do so with renewed vigor: decorating the house, baking old family recipes, reading How the Grinch Stole Christmas a few too many times, you name it. The externals need not hinder the preparation of the heart that Advent extends to us. It reignites expectancy as something active, much like Mary’s pregnancy. Families blessed with the opportunity to have children by any means understands the mixed emotion of excitement and anxiety that accompanies pregnancy. The typical nine months is anything but passive.

So, I’ll live Christmas a little early this year, embracing preparation even when life feels uncertain, because we can be confident. God is faithful, Christ is coming!

Meg Costantini, Campus Minister