It is interesting that Catholics and other Christians dedicate entire seasons to reflect about “waiting.” Advent is one of them. So is Lent, which will soon be upon us! What are you waiting for this Advent? What to do while we wait?
The term Advent — “Adventus,” in Latin — reminds us that something is imminently coming. As a child, my sense of that imminent coming laser-focused on Christmas Day and the gifts that I knew I would receive. My focus, actually, was more on the gifts than on anything else.
Eventually I learned, thanks to good catechesis at home and at my parish, that Advent was much more than waiting for material gifts. As in the case of every other liturgical season, Advent is about Jesus Christ.
That Advent is about Jesus Christ may sound commonsensical to well-catechized Catholics. But let’s be honest, many Catholics out there seem more concerned during Advent about gifts and shopping and fancy meals than on anything that has to do with Jesus Christ.
I learned that Christians are permanently waiting for Jesus, longing for his return on the last day. We constantly say, “Come, Lord Jesus.” During Advent, we intensify that plea.
I must say that it took me a while to embrace the idea. Once I did, it has mesmerized me ever since. My present life and history are important. The coming of the Lord, however, will bring such life and history to fulfillment in God. I long for it. I await for it with the rest of the church.
What do we do while we wait? I think that the Advent tradition of “las posadas” among U.S. Hispanic and Latin American Catholics gives us a good clue: Practice Christian hospitality.
The tradition is inspired by the biblical passages describing the journey of Mary during the last days of her pregnancy, and her husband Joseph searching for an inn (“posada,” in Spanish) to stay. Many places rejected them for various reasons. Eventually they found space at a stable.
Las posadas are often structured as an Advent novena. Each day Mary and Joseph, usually children playing those roles, go to a home or to a group searching for a place to stay. The sojourners sing a popular tune. After several rejections, they are finally welcomed in one place. Then everyone prays and celebrates with a profound sense of fiesta.
Two things we learn from las posadas during Advent.
One, life is a long and complex journey that often places people in difficult situations. Their last resource many times is the openness and generosity of others who are better off.
Two, to be Christian is to welcome others, especially those most in need, with a sense of urgency as if welcoming a mother about to give birth or a child to be born. One cannot wait long.
Yes, as we go through life waiting for history’s final moment, we have a responsibility to welcome one another, to take care of each other, especially those who are most vulnerable. They are the face of Jesus Christ among us.
One cannot genuinely claim to long for Christ’s coming, whether in the mystery of Christmas or on the last day, and reject his real presence in the immigrant, the refugee, the poor, the child and the most vulnerable. The first presupposes the others.
Openness to embracing others, especially those most in need, is a core trait that defines us as a nation. We live in historical circumstances that demand renewing that choice; a profoundly Christian choice. May Advent be an opportunity to embrace the invitation to practice hospitality.
Hosffman Ospino is professor of theology and religious education at Boston College.
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