Waiting is one of the hardest things to do. Just ask any expectant mother and she’ll tell you. From the moment she learns she is going to have a child, the waiting begins – for nine long months. And there’s nothing she can do to speed it along, nor would she really want to, for this time is necessary for the child to grow and fully develop.
But it’s also a time of growth for the mother – not only to get used to the idea of motherhood but to truly open herself to the new life within her, to this new presence. Very quickly, the child in her womb becomes the reference point for everything she does. Every thought and action is seen in light of this new reality – from the perspective of another. The world looks different now, and indeed it is. For a completely new creation – a unique and unrepeatable human soul – has come into existence, and nothing will ever be the same again.
The First Advent
Consider the first Advent, in Nazareth, how Mary must have felt: the eagerness, the anticipation – not to mention the fear and confusion – she would have experienced. Yet, what was her response? Yes, Lord, I come to do your will. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, she was going to be a mother – and not just any mother, but the Mother of God. She didn’t know or fully understand what was happening, but she trusted in His plan. This first Advent marked a completely new beginning, the arrival of something the world had never seen before: the Word made Flesh, the promise of new life for all humanity. In a very real sense, it was the dawn of creation all over again.
We usually think of Advent as the four weeks of preparation for Christmas – with all that entails. But I invite you to consider it from another perspective – from that of our Blessed Mother. What can Mary teach us about the experience of Advent? How would this time have been for her? Who better to show us the way than the one who lived it first?
Advent is that time of year set aside for waiting, in which we prepare for and practice waiting. We must practice patience, hope, and trust in order to surrender our lives to another – to God. Just as a mother is given the time and space – nine full months – to love and accept her child, the Church gives us the season of Advent to prepare us to receive the Christ-child into our hearts once again.
A Mother’s Heart
After receiving the angel Gabriel’s message, Mary wasted no time. She went “with haste” to be with her cousin Elizabeth, to accompany and care for her in her time of need. Both humanly and spiritually, the time was purposeful – necessary. For the best way to prepare a mother’s heart for motherhood is to love and serve another. We can imagine the lessons that Mary learned alongside Elizabeth, how she grew in wisdom and strength.
But this “visitation,” as we’ve come to call it, was significant for another reason; it was the beginning of Mary’s mission to bring Christ to others. “The Blessed Virgin’s initial impulse, once God takes up residence in her body, is to bear that presence to others.”1 Fr. Peter John Cameron describes it as “the first Corpus Christi procession.”2 Though Mary had just received the most incredible news, she thought nothing of herself and set out. Luke’s Gospel says that she simply “arose and went.”3 Likewise, the best way to prepare our hearts and minds for Christ’s coming is to set out, to bring Christ’s love and presence to all those we meet – to family, friends, neighbours, and coworkers, even total strangers.
Life, hidden and silent
For a new mother at the beginning of pregnancy, the life in her womb hardly seems real. And it’s true that from the outside she doesn’t look any different, though she is – quite radically. In the second trimester, though, her patience is rewarded: the presence that she’s sensed from the very beginning becomes more noticeable, more tangible. The stirrings in her womb begin, and the child is suddenly so real. We don’t know precisely how Mary lived these months, for the Gospel accounts are remarkably silent. But we can imagine the waiting, now begun in earnest – the excitement and longing to see the Child and know His every feature.
Waiting is part of God’s plan
From the very beginning, waiting was part of God’s plan. Even the Israelites, God’s chosen people, were no strangers to waiting. In fact, if you look at their history, you’ll see that they – of all people – had to persevere to see the fulfillment of what had been promised them. By the time Christ was born, they had been waiting for thousands of years for the Messiah to come. Generations had come and gone. How easy it would have been to lose hope! But God is faithful; He fulfills His promises.
There are many times in life when we, too, must wait; we wait for results or for an answer, for some news or a response. We wait in traffic and when we travel. We must wait for new life to enter this world, and for it to go on to the next. Many times, God asks us to wait for healing or for justice to be served. In each of the situations, we have little to no control over what will happen, or when it will happen. We wait in joyful expectation of the things we look forward to, and in timidity and fear of those we dread. But in all things, we must learn to trust in God‘s plan – and in His timing. How hard it is for us to let go, to relinquish control!
Because waiting is so hard, so uncomfortable, we want to fill it – with something, with anything. With activity and noise and busyness. This is what the world would have us believe is the only way to prepare for Christmas. But, as always, God shows us another way: He asks us to prepare our hearts for the coming of His Son, just as Mary did. “To be human is to be expectation – that is, to be human is to be a state of waiting for One who will come to reveal life’s meaning to us.”4
This is why Advent makes the most sense when it is seen through Mary’s eyes – the way she lived it in silence, yet full of expectation and hope. The human heart was fashioned for God, and little else will satisfy us. Our Blessed Mother understood this exquisitely. But we shouldn’t expect to encounter the Lord in fantastic signs and wonders, in a violent wind or an earthquake, but rather in the “still, small voice.”5 Our Lord often “hides His power intentionally, to show us how He is the invisible force that moves all things without moving Himself and directs all things without showing His Hand… His power works in the soul in a secret and impenetrable manner.”6
The season of Advent asks for silence, for stillness, because that’s where God is; He comes to us in the quiet recesses of our souls. Mary wants to bring Christ to us; it’s her sole mission in life! But we mustn’t get distracted, despite what’s going on in the world around us. We must shut out the noise and the hectic pace and cultivate silence; we mustn’t allow anything to intrude upon it. Like Mary, let us create in our hearts that space of interior silence and peace: empty so the Lord can fill us, quiet so we will hear His voice, still so that He might move us. Have a beautiful and blessed Advent!
“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.”
– Kelley Holy
1 Fr. Peter John Cameron, O.P. Mysteries of the Virgin Mary: Living Our Lady’s Graces (Cinncinati, OH: Servant Books, 2010), 48.
3 Luke 1:39
4 Cameron, Mysteries of the Virgin Mary, 49.
5 1 Kings 19:12
6 Cameron, Mysteries of the Virgin Mary, 55.