When I was a child, there were a couple of times that I found the waiting time of Advent to be too much to bear. I had to know the identities of the colourful packages and so I found time, late in the evening, to secretly and carefully pull at the scotch tape holding the wrapping paper together on each of my gifts. Knowing the trouble I’d get into if the presents actually disappeared, I returned them carefully re-wrapped to the Christmas tree, and so there were a couple Christmas mornings that held no surprises for me.
I’d like to think that I’ve improved in my ability to wait as an adult, but I’m regularly reminded that I’ve a long way still to go. There are occasions when I’m sitting at yet another red light on my way home from a long day at work that I find myself bemoaning why it’s so difficult for city workers to synchronize the lights on a street when humanity has managed to put a person on the moon! In other words, waiting is not always my strength. As I see the struggles that we as a province and country are living through these days of COVID-19, I know that I am not alone in this.
Perhaps the toughest struggle in the waiting is the inner dialogue that happens, dialogue that illustrates to me how the truths of my Catholic faith sometimes sit up in my head as “interesting” knowledge, without somehow making the trip down to my heart to transform and permeate the way I live. The interior moaning might go something like this: “Why me? What have I done to deserve red light after red light? I mean, yes, I could have been more generous to this colleague and I was a bit sharp with that student today, but really, does that really mean the world has to be against me now?”
Two thousand years ago, the Jewish people were having a similar dialogue with themselves and God. They had a fair amount more to concern themselves with than city traffic: a Roman occupation that many Jews struggled to abide at the time. “Why us?” they asked themselves. “Why should our region be run by the Romans? Yes, we could have obeyed the laws of our God more faithfully, we have been untrue and thoughtless at times. But is Roman rule really justified?”
The birth of a child was God’s response to years of agonized waiting. The birth of Jesus, the Messiah, is also God’s response to me today. It is a truth that is simple to know, and yet utterly profound to understand and live. Emmanuel, God is with us.
Every frustrated encounter with a traffic light can serve as a call to me from the depths of my heart, a reminder that I need God’s grace to help permeate my very being with this truth: God is with us! God is with me! It is God saying: “Red lights can’t take away from your worth. Unkind words and acts, pandemics, corrupt politicians, these can neither add nor take anything away from your preciousness to me. I give you your worth. God is with you!”
As we hear the Christmas story again at Mass this year, let us pray that its wisdom moves a little more from our heads, working its way ever deeper into our hearts. We are extraordinarily precious. We are profoundly loved. God is with us! Let us know it, live it, and breathe it!
-Sister Michelle Langlois, fcJ is chaplain and a teacher at St. Thomas More junior high school in Edmonton. Her column was originally published on the FCJ Sisters’s Weaving One Heart blog.