This article was originally published on 5 January 2015.
For the last 15 months, my wife and I have been waiting. Waiting, specifically, to adopt a child from the foster system in the State of Indiana. It should not have taken this long, but it did. And the wait continues. On this the 12th day of Christmas (even though, officially, Epiphany was celebrated yesterday), I want to reflect upon a different sensation this Advent season – one that I didn’t understand until Christmas Day had come and gone.
Now, 14 months ago, when Advent 2013 came just a few weeks after our adoption process started, I remember appreciating the language of the prayers, of the readings, of the season. The liturgy and practice gave me a tangible spiritual anchor for the experience of unknowing waiting that an adoption process brings. While I always had a special appreciation for Advent when my wife was pregnant with each of our biological children, beginning the process for adoption was something else entirely. I could not feel the baby kick, nor could my wife experience her body changing as the baby grew. That Advent, 2013, I began to appreciate the words of the Church in the anticipation of Christmas as a way to channel my own fears and anticipation of being able to bring a new child–who already exists, lives, and breathes somewhere outside of our care–into our home.
As 2014 came, however, the power of those words of expectation lost their ability to manage my feelings towards the process of adoption. Months rolled into each other and the mostly faceless cloud that is bureaucracy and red tape became filled with faces and lives of children ageing out of the system, children spending another year without family while we sat here without the ability to help, children who were among society’s least powerful in every aspect of the world. Discussions of hope in the abstract left me lifeless. Platitudes from scripture did not hold water. The act of hope–the act of holding on–was just about all I could bear. Any discussion of this hope, no matter how well-intentioned, threatened to shake the act itself.
But then, as it always does, Advent came, rushing in like a 4-year-old after the first snowfall.
“God is coming!” Isaiah tells us.
“Christ is coming!” The angels tell us.
John the Baptist screams: “Prepare yourself!”
Amid the presents, the travelling, the family, and the well-wishing, I was reminded every day that we, as a community, are a waiting bunch. We wait for Christ. We wait for salvation. We wait for holiness. We wait for the new heaven and new earth. We wait, together.
For a few brief weeks, everyone waited with me through every reading, every prayer, and every mention of Christmas day. Sure, we were waiting for different things, but I didn’t mind. We waited in Christ, in faith, and in hope. And I was so thankful.
I no longer waited alone.
Like I said, it took 26 December to come and remind me that this happened. It took the readings going back to normal, going back to celebration and transition instead of hopeful expectation. It took me realising that everyone had moved on, liturgically speaking, to remember that I had not. I am still there, in Advent. And I am not leaving.
Yes, Christmas Day came and went in our liturgical season. We move on emotionally, discuss the Baptism, and get ready for the power of Lent and the joys of Easter. But I’m not going anywhere. Advent – all its readings, its emotions, its prayers, its hopes – Advent is mine. I really pray and hope that our Christmas wish will be fulfilled before everyone else joins me in Advent in 11 months, but if not, I’ll see you then. I will be here, joyfully, prayerfully, prophetically, waiting.
John P. Slattery holds a PhD in the History & Philosophy of Science and Systematic Theology from the University of Notre Dame. He works for the American Association for the Advancement of Science and lives in Washington, DC metro area.
Reproduced with permission from Daily Theology.