Advent is finally here. This is the season of waiting in hope for the coming of Christ in the incarnation. We decorate our homes, light candles, increase our daily prayer. This Advent, like so much this year, seems different. We’re waiting in anticipation of a Christmas that will lack many of the trappings of the typical holiday celebration. We’re also waiting for something else, something that for a long while we did not dare to hope for: a vaccine. Because while Christmas will come and go well before life can return to normal, there is a palpable feeling of hope that relief is just around the corner.
A Year of Waiting
It’s hard to believe it was Lent when this all started. I remember we talked about Lent feeling particularly sacrificial. It felt poignant. This was the Lent in which we stayed home, where we gave up certain household items because we simply could not find them. This was the Long Lent of 2020, and we would always remember it. But Lent expanded past Easter, an Easter I remember being particularly painful. I cried watching Easter mass on my television screen. I did not visit any family. I couldn’t believe the pandemic had gone on for so long.
Now, of course, I realize how far off my expectations regarding the pandemic were. The association between COVID lockdown and Lent fell away entirely as restrictions stretched into the summer. We adapted to a new normal, which nobody really liked but seemed livable, only to have it taken away again as numbers began to climb. This time, though, we knew the drill. And the general expectation, at least in my circles, was that life could continue like this for years. Then Pfizer announced that they were ready to submit their vaccine for authorization from the FDA.
Advent of Hope
Advent is about waiting for Christ’s coming. But this is a highly symbolic season. Christ does not “arrive” every year on Christmas Day. We are commemorating an event from the past while looking forward to an unknown future when He returns again. We also celebrate the fact that Christ is already here among us, and has been ever since that first Christmas. It’s an important ritual that allows us to enter more deeply into the mystery of God’s humanity. Having the COVID-19 vaccine on the horizon, and yet not within our grasp, is a striking parallel to the annual Advent ritual. This is not because the vaccine is more powerful or more important that God’s grace, but because we have been reminded of the frailty of the human condition. For a long time, we have been waiting in fear and uncertainty. Now, we are waiting in hope.
Christ Always Comes
Christmas is still Christmas without parties and presents. It’s still Christmas without travelling and decorations. It’s even still Christmas without our loved ones around us. Advent serves to remind us that even if no one is celebrating, Christ is present. Perhaps that is the lesson we will need to take from this Christmas, which is sure to be a strange one. God never needed any of the trappings. After all, He was born in a manger.
Come this summer, there is a real chance that life can start returning to normal. So many things we once took for granted will return and – for a time – we will be overjoyed. I sincerely hope that this joy will remain for a while. But I know that we are human beings, and our default is to slide into complacency. We will forget to find joy in the long commutes, the fifteen-minute coffees with friends, and frustrations of large crowds. That’s nothing compared to forgetting that God became man and died for our sins. And yet, we do forget. All the time.
Which is why we need Advent. Every year.