It has been A Year of Sorrowful Longing and Waiting.

In time to come I think – in addition to the increased use of hand sanitiser, the wearing of facemasks and feelings of anxiety – I will remember this as the year of sorrowful longing and waiting. Waiting for daily coronavirus updates, for lockdown to start and lockdown to end, and, for a vaccine. Waiting to have a coronavirus test and then waiting for the results. Waiting to hear about how many deaths and longing to be with those who were suffering and to comfort those who were mourning. Waiting to enter shops so that the appropriate distancing is observed, for schools to re-open, for curfew to lift and the ring of steel to lift; the longing to be with friends and to visit loved ones.

For most of us, the normal rituals of life were overturned and everything seemed just that little bit more fragile. Some people have lost their livelihoods with closed and empty shopfronts a visual reminder that things, for a time, ground to a halt. For those who experienced the death of a loved one, the restrictions on funeral attendance offered an additional layer of sorrow and heartache. For those who were ready to celebrate a significant life event this year – well, the day probably ended up being like so many of the other days … a quietly lived day in the ‘new normal’ time. And for the so many who were directly affected by the pandemic a deep sense, I suspect, of helplessness. We have all, in our own ways been called upon to manage our lives and to survive the best way we could in this pandemic year. It has been a year of sorrowful longing and waiting.

And now it is Advent. A time that is observed as a joyful waiting time. I wonder if it helps to remember that we are not the only people who have had the experience of longing and waiting. Our ancestors in faith were practised in this way of being – and Advent, in a most particular way reminds us of this.

When we reflect on the Advent texts, we may notice these same echoes of longing and waiting. Different ideas may settle in us from these texts, depending on what is happening in our lives. Perhaps a year of being humbled by longing and waiting draws us to the prophet Isaiah’s profound sense that God is a God in whom we can trust. Perhaps the weight of this Covid time and the troubles of the world draw us into Isaiah’s gracious God – a God who hears the cries of the world and answers them. Perhaps we feel we have lost our voice and find the courage to cry out without fear. Or perhaps we come to the end of the year and find that, even in the midst of this pandemic, a renewed sense of the blessings of our lives has emerged and we carry quiet yet rejoicing hearts into the Christmas season.

And – even without the worries of a pandemic year – it can also be a strangely sad season for many of us. The hurts of the year may well up and we may feel overwhelmed by them. All the little injustices that don’t seem to have been made right may be causing our hearts to harden. The memories of past, happier times may seem closer than usual – most families have an empty chair or two around the Christmas table. We may realise in a heightened way how deeply affected we are by journeying with an ageing parent, a sick partner, friend or child. In the midst of all this talk about hope and joy we may just feel burdened, lonely and just very tired.

Perhaps this is the grace the holy space of Advent offers. This waiting time provides a reminder to us that God is at the heart of life. We place the stories of our ancestors alongside the stories of our lives and then we know that the sick will be healed, that our beloved dead are resting in the peace of a loving God, and that God is woven into all of our memories and is on this journey with us.

But most of all, we know this because even in our Covid weary bones we will once again join with Christians around the world on Christmas day and sing – albeit in a different way this year – that the Christ child is born. We will celebrate the hope that the Emmanuel, God-with-us brings. Let us allow our hearts to awaken and be imprinted with the joy of this ancient story about a man, the Son of God, who lived, loved, died and rose again, revealing for us God’s deep love for humanity.

So, perhaps it is time for us to arise from our slumber, awake from our sleep and remember that the new day always dawns – because Christ, the Emmanuel is with us in the midst of it all – even a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.

by Cathy Jenkins
Assistant to the Director: Leadership with Catholic Education Sandhurst.
Sandhurst Delegate for Plenary Council