Advent is like a traffic jam.
Do you have rosary beads dangling in your car? Or are those Mardi Gras beads? Can anyone tell the difference when you bang the steering wheel in traffic ... just like everyone else?
Now let's not forget that:
You pray how you live: that is, how you live humility, detachment, faith and trust in God... Why? Cuz prayer is a gift...— Father Nathan (@CathTools) January 10, 2013
And of course, that the opposite is also true: "You live how you pray." But the good news - or bad news, depends how you look at it - is that our lives and our prayer are also like traffic jams.
Two meanings of Advent:
Old Testament: First of all, Advent reminds us of the entire Old Testament: that long period of waiting for the Messiah to come. But just like it was for Abraham, who was promised a child by God, waiting can be very hard. In fact, Abraham lost faith in God. He decided that Sarah was too old to conceive and he had relations with her slave girl instead. For this he was punished by God, and the covenant bond had to be renewed.
God's plan was that mankind had to wait literally thousands of years before the "fullness of time" arrived. During this time of waiting, the people of Israel went through many stages of losing and regaining faith in God's promise; of ups and downs, exiles and returns, of prosperity and depression before baby Jesus was finally laid in the manger.
Christmas seen in this historical context of waiting, is not unlike the day my family arrived to our farmhouse in Wisconsin. We had dreamed and planned for years of moving to the country. As we neared our new home on that last dusty mile, our joy, precisely because of the long years of waiting, was greater, and we were also much better prepared.
Second Coming: Advent also reminds us of that moment when Christ will come again at the end of time. But whereas the first meaning invites us to wait, and while we patiently light our Advent wreaths, week after week, actually already knowing exactly when Christmas will come, the second meaning of Advent points to another certainty in our lives.: that we don't know when Christ will come the next time around. And we are invited to be ready at all times.
None of us like to sit in traffic waiting, but now, whenever I do, I think back to that day I got a chocolate ticket: The officer was dressed elegantly, complete with hat, vest, badge and whistle. He stepped up to the driver's window with an official looking notepad and seriously asked us if we had any chocolate on board.
He replied: "Yes, if you have any chocolate on board your vehicle, sir?"
We just looked bewildered. Then he proceeded to write us up a "ticket" for the crime of "not having sufficient chocolate aboard."
Then he reached into a pouch, and to our great joy proceeded to supply each passenger with a Ritter Sport bar of chocolate.
When you can't find a job; when your sickness doesn't go away; or when you wait for years, it seems, for an experience of God's presence; when these things happen, when you are forced to wait, think of Abraham, and remind yourself that God is faithful in his time.
And don't forget the second lesson, to be prepared always for the gifts God does choose to give you, even when it shocks you as much as getting free chocolate while sitting in traffic.
So yes, life and prayer are like traffic jams, because they both have moments of long waiting and moments of spontaneous rejoicing.
And the next time you are in traffic, instead of banging on the steering wheel, pull down those rosary beads and remind yourself of what it means to be Catholic: that whether God lets you wait for years, or suddenly surprises you with his gifts, that it should all serve one purpose - to prepare your heart to rejoice in full when you meet him definitively in heaven.