December 19, 2016
A People of Patience
by Paul Senz
It probably could go without saying that our culture today is largely one of instant gratification. It seems that with every passing week, there is a new fad or product that promises faster results, shorter waits, or more exciting features for those with short attention spans. In many ways, patience is no longer considered a virtue—the common perception is that patience should not even be necessary, because we should not have to wait. In the liturgical life of Catholics, waiting is a foregone conclusion. Advent is a time of waiting and preparation.
Perhaps a more fitting word to describe this season would be “anticipation.” There is so much that we are eagerly anticipating in the weeks leading up to the celebration of the Nativity of the Lord. We await the coming of Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God-with-us. We await Christmastime, with its family celebrations, gift-giving, and general merrymaking.
And in this anticipation, we are called not simply to wait but to be patient. The third Sunday of Advent is commonly called “Gaudete Sunday.” Gaudete—rejoice! It might seem an odd thing that we are called to rejoice in the midst of the anticipation. We have been waiting so long, and we are not yet at the end. Why rejoice?
We rejoice because the wait is almost at an end. We know that we are near the fulfillment of God’s promise, that he is coming to save his people from their sins. What better reason to rejoice could there be? The second reading is from the Letter of James, which exhorts us to be patient. “The coming of the Lord is at hand,” James tells us, so we must be patient,
we must make preparations, as does the farmer who waits for the fruits of the earth. In this passage, James also calls to mind our forebears. “The prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord” are exemplary models of hardship and patience. And this could not be truer: If we look back at the stories recounted in the Old and New Testaments, what we hear is one overarching story of God’s providence and steadfastness and countless examples of the need for his people to wait patiently.
We think of Noah and his family on the ark, waiting patiently for the rains to subside. We think of Moses leading the Israelites through the desert for 40 years, waiting to reach the Promised Land. We think of Jonah in the belly of the whale, waiting for three days. We think of Jeremiah, Isaiah, Joel, Zechariah, and the other prophets, calling on the people to wait patiently and trust in the Lord.
We think of Jesus and his incessant reminders that his time “had not yet come.” We think of the apostles and disciples of Jesus, waiting for who-knew-what after the crucifixion, and following the Ascension, waiting for Jesus to come again. And here, in that great tradition of holy men and women, we wait patiently, for the advent of our King. Gaudete—rejoice!
Senz is a freelance writer living in Oregon with his family.