(This is Cardinal Wilton Gregory's “What I Have Seen and Heard” column for the Dec. 10, 2020 Catholic Standard newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.)

The primary focus of the Advent season is about waiting. The Advent scripture readings remind us that God’s people waited in hopeful anticipation for the promised Messiah. He has already come in time, but probably not as most people had anticipated His arrival. He was born as a poor Child in unworthy accommodations.   He came in the silence and darkness of the night with only a few shepherds to greet Him.

His arrival, however, brought Light to the darkness of night and caused the heavenly hosts to sing. His birth continues to do so even today. We also now await His return as a Glorious King and a Merciful Judge. Every chapter of the life of the Lord brings wonders – His selection of the first disciples, His cruel death on the cross, and His Resurrection all defy what most people might have imagined would take place. God is always full of surprises.

Advent reminds us that we continue to live in a time of heightened anticipation. And we should be prepared for the surprises that may occur in our future. The entire human family is also waiting for an end to this dreadful pandemic. Our expectant hearts have been uplifted by the announced success of several vaccines that the scientific-medical world promises will be an effective solution to this deadly virus.  We should be eager to receive this medicine.  

Some people, however, may be hesitant to take the injection, fearful that it might bring other consequences. But we all long to find an end to the disruption to our common life that the coronavirus has brought about for too long a time. We are anxious to receive the healing and health for which we so long.

But we must also be willing to expect a newness in the wake of this dreadful pandemic’s disappearance. Pope Francis, reminding us that we are not intended to exit this global moment as we entered it, has said, To come out of this crisis better, we have to recover the knowledge that as a people we have a shared destination. The pandemic has reminded us that no one is saved alone. What ties us to one another is what we commonly call solidarity. Solidarity is more than acts of generosity, important as they are; it is the call to embrace the reality that we are bound by bonds of reciprocity. On this solid foundation we can build a better, different, human future.”  

God may well have surprises that will make us rejoice in a newness of being together in Christ and with one another. Our liturgical life will resume, but hopefully with much greater intensity and with a deeper appreciation of the wonder of being together worshiping God after a long absence of personal physical interaction. We wait for that moment when we can be together before the Lord in prayer, in closeness and without fear.

The season of Advent reminds us that Christ ultimately also comes with salvific healing and for the restoration of the well-being for our troubled world. This Advent, as we await the Christ, we should also consider the illnesses of the soul that continue to destroy the harmony of our world. We need Christ to heal and to redeem our troubled humanity.

In many ways, Christ’s arrival is far more important than even the vaccines that we await. The Lord can bring a renewed spirit of hope and peace to our battered and fragmented world. We must be open to how our future might be even better than we can now envision. God is a God of surprises. During these closing weeks of Advent as the world prepares to receive the vaccines that we pray will bring an end to the pandemic, let our hearts be open to what God will do for us beyond even our wildest dreams. Just like a Baby born in a stable who eventually embraced the Cross and then rose from the dead, God’s ways are always beyond what we might hope for or even desire.