ADVENT MESSAGE 2021
By Archbishop John Wong
Archdiocese of Kota Kinabalu
26 November 2021
Advent: Hope and Waiting
AS the nation sets to transition into the endemic stage from a pandemic, returning to normalcy is still a far cry for the people. We still need to coexist with COVID-19. This means that SOPs will be here to stay for an indefinite period of time.
We have in a way got used to the new normal. Although masking, social distancing, frequent hand-washing and the use of hand sanitizers are now second nature to us, some of us continue to live and struggle with job and business losses, bleak economy, frustration with a strained health system, unpredicted loss of loved ones to the COVID-19, the question of booster vaccination, and an affective and unstable politics.
In the midst of these mundane uncertainties that disturb our peace, there is above everything else, the waiting and hoping for the pandemic to be successfully eradicated. But will our hoping and waiting be in vain?
Advent is here again. Advent generally means the period of waiting and preparing for Christmas. In contrast, Advent by Church tradition is a time of expectant waiting. We wait expectantly for the Christ Child to come again. “The true light that gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” Jn 1:9. And again in Is 7:14 “Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign; See, the virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel.”
We wait with anticipation that it will be something wonderful and perhaps even surprising. We know that He is sure to come, but when He comes, how will we encounter Him? We may encounter the presence of Christ in the poor, in the internally displaced, in the victims of disasters, in the sick, in the despised. Just as the Magi encountered Him – in ‘swaddling cloths …and laid in a manger’.
It was recorded in Mt 2:1-2 “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of King Herod, wise men from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star at its rising and have come to worship him.” However, if we are only looking for Him in what we think are the right places, we might just miss Him.
Advent waiting requires making time and space. We are not waiting passively for God to act. We need to make room for God’s action to be something that we can welcome, something that we can pay attention to when it happens.
In order to allow this to happen, we need to ask: Will we make time for the Christ Child this Advent, or is our life too rushed and busy with Christmas preparations and plans for holidays now that we have a more relaxed SOP that opens the borders of the states and country?
We need to set up some quiet and quality time to encounter Him, for at a “Silent Night, Holy Night”, He came into this world. He too will come to you in a “silent and quiet moment”.
Just as there was no room at the inn for Mary, Joseph and Jesus because it was too full – “And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” Lk 2:7 – our hearts may not be open to Him because it is filled with superficial concerns and pandemic-related worries. So, we need to empty our heart and prepare a special space for Him to come – and come straight into it.
Advent waiting is hopeful. Unlike for Mary and Joseph, we have the experiential faith of the entire Church community that Jesus has already come into the world, and has encountered the living Christ before us to give us hope.
So, we wait with hope for His second coming. We wait together with one another and not alone. He will come, and even in a bigger way, when we look forward to His coming and encounter Him each week at Mass in the Eucharist, making our hope in His return much more palpable than merely reliving the historical event of Advent.
St Paul wrote about hope and waiting for Christ’s return in his letters “For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope, for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it” (Rm 8:24-25).
These words are perhaps even more applicable for us today as Advent reminds us that our hope is in Jesus Christ, and if so, it is not in vain, whether in or out of the pandemic.
What kind of waiting then is our Advent? If we see the wait as a spiritual invitation of longing and expectation: “Come, Lord Jesus”, we will be part of those who have been waiting for the Second Coming, just as Mary and Joseph, and the saints did.
We will be Advent people, people who wait with Hope, people who not only focus on the here and now but who look forward to the fulfillment of the promise of the coming Kingdom. As the prophet Jeremiah says “Then the Lord said to me, ‘You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it.” Jer 1:12.