Have you ever thought about the wide variety of calendars we use? For students, parents, administrators, and teachers, the “school year” seems to matter most; it orients the whole year. For others, the “fiscal year,” seems most important, with the regular intervals of producing reports and paying taxes. If our parish calendar graces a place in your home, you know that the 12-month calendar (January to December) orients us to the passage of days and weeks, marked by various Saint Days and Church celebrations. Among the Vietnamese, the Lunar Year and a holiday called Tết, the most important celebration in Vietnamese culture, provide the yearly focus. Tết, by the way, is a shortened form of Tết Nguyên Đán, which is Vietnamese for “Feast of the First Morning of the First Day.” All the while, as a Catholics, we know there is yet another “year” called “the Liturgical Year” which begins for us today.
Regardless of which calendar might organize our lives, the year behind us (or shortly to be behind us) has has left us all physically, emotionally, and spiritually tired. Isn’t that true? It has been a year of upheaval, surprises, change, turmoil, anxiety, fear, confusion, disappointment, disillusionment, and detachment … all of which only begins to describe how we feel. We have run out of words, and we have been forced to “die” to so many things, routines, celebrations, customs, and sometimes relationships. Our familiar ways, our security has been shaken, forcing us into the unknown. It seems to that we are a bit like the Israelites wandering in the desert for forty years.
Many of us are wondering where we are going and how long it will take to get there. On top of that, we’re not even sure that, when we get there, we will like it, but we can hope. One thing we have discovered is that the mess we are in is not something we can fix on our own. Some would like to try, but that only makes it worse. Some of us really struggle and resist learning that lesson.
For people of faith, there comes an Advent message today that encourages us to stay awake and watch. “Watch and wait for what?” We will discover the answer to that question over the next four weeks. For now, let us remember that the Divine Light that burns within every soul cannot be extinguished. We begin this new year of faith with the reminder that by Love’s power we will discover something that will make sense. Real hope rests on the firm belief that we are created for union with God and that God’s will is ever-creative and sustains what we do. This is the only way we can ever see light in dark moments, especially when people all around us are tempted to give up and walk away. Our hope is joyfully rooted in God’s promise, which allows us to watch and wait. It gives us reason to stay the course, even when we may want to just close our eyes and get some sleep, hoping to wake up and find that this year has just been a bad dream.
The Israelites might have thought the same during their forty year sojourn in the desert, but hope brought them out of the land of Egypt, guided their way, inspired their prophets to speak the truth, eventually raised Jesus from the dead, and then sent the Gospel to a weary world. We have the blessing of hearing that very Gospel today, thanks be to God. Take it to heart, “get real” about living it, and make the most of this day, make it count!