As we approach the end of Advent and prepare to celebrate Christmas, the Advent themes of watching and waiting resonate more with us than usual this year.
After all, we’ve been watching and waiting most of 2020. Waiting for a vaccine to hopefully eliminate the biggest public health threat in a century. Waiting to be able to safely spend time with family and friends. Waiting to hug someone we love. Waiting for the chance to do everyday things like go to the grocery store or eat in a restaurant.
Advent reminds us that we wait, watch and prepare for Jesus’s coming in three primary ways. The first is often called the Parousia, or the Second Coming, when the Lord comes back to greet us at the end of time. It has been predicted many times, but the Lord himself tells us that no one knows the day or the hour, so we must stay ready.
The second way is similar, but we know it will happen to each one of us. Our time on this Earth will end, and we wait, watch and prepare for that day when we meet the Lord face to face. We will encounter him in death, which I pray will be a transition for all of us from this world to the next, the beginning of a new and eternal life with God that we cannot even imagine.
The third way, which I suggest that we think about and emphasize right now, is watching how the Lord comes to us in everyday life. It’s easy to miss Jesus in our daily activities, so we must make an effort to open our eyes, minds and hearts to be more aware, conscious, and willing to see God in those around us. Jesus is not just in a little manger in Bethlehem. He is here right now, and if we look for him, we will see him in more ways than we expect.
You have probably had moments in your life when you felt God was right there with you. When hearing Confession at times, I have felt God has given me the exact right words to say. I also think of times when I had the strong sense God was directing my efforts as I counseled couples who came to me for help.
Yet we also find God in smaller, unexpected ways. I remember years ago being in a store at Christmastime and in line to check out. Ahead of me was a little boy trying to purchase a gift for his mother that cost about $18. I watched him slowly count out his dollars and coins to see if he had enough. As I waited and got a little impatient, a thought popped into my head: “Why don’t you just pay for it yourself?”
I did, and I must tell you, the feeling I had doing that was my best experience of Christmas that year. I felt God’s presence simply by helping someone that I didn’t know buy a gift for someone else, and I hope God used it to help the boy realize that adults and others who were not part of his family care about him as an individual. That was one small moment for me to be Jesus to someone else, to let Jesus work through me, and for me to recognize that Jesus was right there as it happened.
I remember another time years ago at Johns Hopkins hospital in Baltimore, where I went to visit someone I knew very well who was dying of cancer. I came out of the hospital around 11:00 on a Sunday night, tired after a long week and a long day. I needed some caffeine for the drive home, so I went to the drive-in at Popeye’s right across the way.
As I was in line, a man out on the street came up to me. He was bald, almost like he had lost his hair from cancer treatments, though I don’t know if that was the case. He said, “Sir, can you get me something to eat?” I asked him what he wanted, ordered it, and paid for it. As I drove away and looked in my rearview mirror, I saw the man take the food and go inside Popeye’s to sit down and eat.
In one $7 or $8 gift, I fed someone who was hungry and provided at least temporary shelter and warmth on a cold night. I drove the 50 miles back to Washington awake from the caffeine but energized even more by the wonderful feeling that God had appeared to me once again. “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)
In this year of disruption and isolation, let’s all try harder to recognize God in things we already do and reach out more than usual to someone in need. Can we try to find one moment that may be a little outside of our normal routine where we can make a difference for somebody?
Donations are absolutely critical, and we are so grateful for the generous support so many have given to Catholic Charities this year as we faced unprecedented needs amid the pandemic. In addition to gifts of money, may I suggest that you try to find one person who needs help and do something for that person. It could be your chance to meet Jesus face-to-face.
There are many ways to bring God’s love to others. You might assist someone in need. Maybe write a note to somebody you haven’t seen in a while, or make a call (or even Zoom call) to let someone know that you care.
We spend lots of energy preparing for Christmas – finding the best gifts, making great dinners, hosting relatives. That’s all important. But can we prepare for Jesus on a deeper level? Do something. Be something. Change something. Reach out to someone.
This kind of preparation as we wait and watch will allow the Lord to once again come alive in our hearts and the hearts of others, bringing Jesus into our hurting world this Christmas season.
(Msgr. Enzler is the president and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington. He writes the “Faith in Action” column for the Catholic Standard and Spanish-language El Pregonero newspapers of the Archdiocese of Washington.)