What about Advent calendars!?

My Marian Advent calendar!
This year, I bought myself an Advent calendar for the first time! Every year I usually send my nieces and nephews an Advent calendar to help them remember the real meaning of Advent as a time of counting down towards Jesus' birth and not just a countdown towards presents and parties. Well this year, I felt like I too needed this reminder. I write this bang in the middle of 'Christmas' exam season. It is easy to get submerged in the stress of papers and tests, whilst the little and important things in life sweep by us and get lost in the tension and anxiety. Advent calendars are a little way of reminding us that we are preparing for the Lord's birth and that He is with us. For those of you unfamiliar with an Advent calendar, it is a special calendar used to count or celebrate the days in anticipation of Christmas and the days often overlap with the Christian season of Advent. Despite the name, most commercially available Advent calendars begin on the 1st of December, regardless of when Advent begins, which can be as early as the 27th of November and as late as the 3rd of December. Many take the form of a large rectangular card with "windows" of which there are usually 24: one for each day of December leading up to Christmas Day. One is opened every day leading up to Christmas. The calendar windows open to reveal an image, poem, a portion of a story (such as the story of the Nativity of Jesus) or a small gift, such as a toy or a chocolate item. Some calendars are strictly religious, whereas others are secular in content as you can see if you browse the Internet!

Passing through the University bookshop I saw a selection of Advent calendars available but one in particular caught my eye: the one which had the beautiful icon of our Lady of Tenderness (in the photo). Each window opens to reveal a phrase or word from the Canticle of the Magnificat.  For me, Advent is about waiting with Mary. It is a season of waiting, of being drawn into the spiritual discipline of anticipation. Our spiritual director is Mary, the mother of Jesus, the one in whom we see revealed the patience of God. Mary waits for the Messiah, and in doing so she invites us into a way of life that welcomes the Gospel through a posture of waiting. She is minding her own business when the angel Gabriel shows up out of the blue and completely surprises Mary. The Greek word Luke uses to describe her reaction means something like “profoundly unsettled, agitated, disturbed, or terrified.” In other words, she is completely freaked! And we can’t blame her—angels aren’t cuddly creatures with glowing halos who play the harp all day. No, angels are terrifying and powerful, wielding swords and ready to smite the enemies of God as we see in the Old Testament and especially in the Book of Revelation. It’s not necessarily a good thing to be visited by an angel. They can bring good news or bad news, and Mary is not sure what the appearance of this angel means. That’s why Gabriel’s word of reassurance is so important. He says, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:30, NRSV) which can translate as "Don’t be afraid, Mary, I won’t strike you dead!."

As hard as we may try, we don’t know how to prepare for God to show up. God happens in ways that we least expect and at times when we feel most unprepared. Mary’s story is now our story. We are like Mary: we’ve heard the good news of the Messiah’s coming and we aren’t sure how this good news can take shape in our lives. Like Mary we have our excuses: how can this be since I have these things going on in my life—this commitment and that circumstance. Perhaps we’ll be ready next year!
But that’s not how God operates. God doesn’t wait until we think we are ready, because God knows that we always already have all that we need. That’s what grace means: God has already given us all that we need to welcome God’s new life. So God announces and waits with us.
Yes, God waits with us—that’s an important part of the good news. Advent is also about the way God waits with us. Advent shows us the patience of God. So this Advent, let God be 'patient' with you...and you never know what will happen!