Dark comes early on these December days leading up to Christmas. The cold begins to settle in my bones. When the sun sets the little daytime creatures in the woods retreat to their nests and burrows. In the hours to follow, the liquid dark will fill in every hollow as the frost of almost-winter coats the fallen leaves and the bare branches. The quiet is a different kind of silent night in the woods this time of year. Like the chill of the air, this quiet is a solid thing, with a weight and substance of its own. It’s as if the earth itself is whispering, “Slow down. Wait. Be still.” The world is holding its breath. In a couple of weeks, on the solstice, the earth will begin to journey to the light and warmth once again. But right now, these are the dark days of waiting and longing in the cold quiet of long and frosty nights.
It’s no wonder that the Church celebrates the birth of Jesus in the winter. Life is at its most hidden in the winter. Days are short and the weak light of the sun gives little warmth. We stay bundled inside our own little burrows, hidden and safe. We can imagine, if we try, the Virgin Mary with the Word of God growing quietly inside of her. She moves more slowly now, and with more deliberation. She spends more of her time thinking of her Son and His coming into the world. The darkness of the world is soon to be illumined by His great Light. Everything she does is affected by His presence within her. She waits. She prays. She hopes for His birth as any mother hopes for the coming of their baby. Yet the Virgin also knows Who her Son is and knows as well the road He must travel. The bloom of God within her will one day pierce her immaculate heart.
There exists a delicate balance in these Advent days. A balance between light and dark, life and death, action and reflection. Above all, it is a time of learning to be patient. We wait to hear His voice. We stop focusing on the busyness of the world to reflect on eternal things. We prepare the manger of our hearts to receive our Savior. We put aside our wants so that we can meet the needs of the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, the outsiders in our community. Every Advent is another opportunity to be light in the darkness. We waste this time of patient preparation if we allow ourselves to be caught up in the world’s push to purchase and display and out-do. We can’t be merciful if we’re in a competition. Mercy thrives in humility and service. And patience.
In the cold dark nights of winter, a great Light is coming. Our waiting is a gift to the Light. As we learn to conform our will to His will, we love more, we forgive more. We know that love is kind, but it is, first of all, patient (I Corinthians 13:7). We wait. We prepare through our repentance and our almsgiving. We share our abundance with those who have less. Patient love endures in hard times. It grows in the heart that turns to the Light despite the coldness of a world that despises her King. Winter roots hold life and the promise of the coming spring. In the dark and cold, they grow strong and sturdy. And when the Light returns, they’re ready. They send forth new life. This is our calling—to prepare ourselves for the Light that is coming. Alleluia.
“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits and in His word, I hope…”