Q: Archbishop J, in Advent who is waiting?
Advent, if we think about it, is about Mary. John the Baptist, Isaiah, the gospels all heighten the sense of longing for the Messiah. They all contribute to the drama of the waiting. They play the part of best supporting actors in this great drama. In that first Advent, who is waiting on whom? Now we have the central part of the drama. It is God who is waiting on Mary. It is Mary who is waiting on God. That is why it is a season of active waiting in joyful hope.
Like every good Jew, Mary was waiting for the coming Messiah. Many prophecies spoke about His coming and every prophecy about Israel was applied to the Messiah. He was servant of the Lord, yet He was son. He was a King of David’s house, yet specially chosen by the Lord. He was a suffering servant, yet all the nations were to receive salvation through Him.
In first century Israel, there was a buzz and expectation that the Messiah would come, and it ignited the imagination of people with hope and longing. Israel was in its season of Advent; a time of active waiting with joyful hope on the coming of the Messiah.
This excitement was infectious: all Israel longed for the day. John the Baptist would send his disciples to ask Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come, or must we wait for another?” (Matt 11:3)
“Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign: the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel” (Is 7:14). As she waited, Mary a young Jewish woman, would have pondered the mysteries contained in this sacred text. What could it mean? She waited in joyful hope.
The prophecy of the kingdom of David having no end was a great source of comfort (2 Samuel 7:4ff). But, the destruction of Jerusalem—and with it David’s kingdom—raised questions, for some, about God’s faithfulness to His word.
The line of Davidic kings ended, and a false king ruled in Israel who was not of David’s line or his house. Still, the Lord’s promise was that the Messiah would be of David, and the expectation was real.
Now imagine yourself as a young girl, with all this hope and expectation in the air, when an angel appears to you. The angel says: “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favour with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end” (Lk 1:30–33).
This is a mouthful and a head spinner. What was impossible is now possible. The ancient prophecy is being fulfilled and the kingdom of David will be restored. The whole history of Israel would have flashed before Mary’s eyes: “God is true to His word! My hope and waiting was not in vain!”
All the prophecies about the Messiah and all the expectations and speculations would have been stirred up within her heart. The vindication of God and the long hope of Israel was imminent.
Then these words, “you are to conceive and bear a son.” But how could this happen? She was a virgin. But this is the stuff of the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14. “A virgin would conceive and bear a son.”
We cannot imagine the turmoil and excitement in Mary during the visit of the angel. But we must see that this brought all the waiting of Israel and of Mary into one great unexpected climax. God was doing God’s thing and now the waiting of Israel would soon be over.
Have you ever wondered what God was doing when the dinosaurs walked the earth? God was waiting. After the creation and fall, God said that an offspring of the woman would crush the head of the serpent (Gen 3:15). Then God waited in joyful hope that we would one day be ready to receive the fullness of love and revelation.
Have you ever thought of God waiting on you to become the potential that was always possible? Waiting on you to say, ‘Yes’. To yield to the divine will and plan.
In Mary, God’s waiting comes to its climax. The moment had come. “In the fullness of time God sent his son born of a woman” (Gal 4:4). That woman was Mary of Nazareth. Then, even God had an Advent.
St Bernard of Clairvaux, in a wonderful sermon on the Annunciation, speaks of God waiting on Mary’s answer. “O prudent Virgin, do not fear to be presumptuous… See, the desired of all nations is at your door, knocking to enter. If he should pass by because of your delay, in sorrow you would begin to seek him afresh, the One whom your soul loves. Arise, hasten, open. Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving. Behold the handmaid of the Lord, she says, be it done to me according to your word.”
Let us not keep God waiting this Advent.
That first Advent, Israel, Mary and God would have waited in joyful hope for the coming of the Messiah. We too should wait in joyful hope.
Imagine Mary, a young girl pregnant in utterly strange circumstances, and filled with mystery, joy and hope. Spend time with her in conversation about this Advent experience.