The pregnant virgin Mother is the icon that gently invites us into Advent: An expectant woman, waiting for the Word of God to become flesh in her life. She dominates the time of Advent with her silent presence, as she waits with expectant faith for God to make the impossible happen in her life.
Learning to wait with such faith is what this new liturgical season is all about. For us Christians the way we live time becomes the golden road for an incarnated spirituality. Liturgical time must lead us to break the routine and enter into new beginnings. Advent is about carrying the tensions of life – the already and not yet – it is in these very tensions that we live the symphony of our spirituality.
One may ask what are we waiting for? Are we waiting for the messiah to be born again in Bethlehem? For a Christian, there should be no turning back, no nostalgia of an ancient past. We remember the birth of Christ, yet not wait for it to happen again.
During this time of Advent, we wait and pray like a lover waiting for his loved one; we wait like a mother waiting for her child to be born after the long period of gestation, longing to see the face of her child.
We are called to be awake, not alienated or too busy with life that we miss the signs of God’s presence. Advent is time to pause; to think, to regenerate and to look forward with hope, as our God continues to surprise us with His humble presence. During this time, we are helped on this inner journey with the figure of the prophet Isaiah who challenges us to prepare a way in the desert of daily life; with John the Baptist who calls us for inner conversion, and with the Virgin Mother who shows us the way of interiority and listening. She is depicted with open hands praying, and waiting for her inner life to develop fully. She expresses our desires and holy longings as she becomes the image of the whole people of God in waiting.
If a place is already full it would be hard to find space for new things, for new creativity, for new life
Recently in an interview about art, a famous artist was asked what is needed today for art to develop. His answer was revealing. He said that what art needs most, are empty spaces to fill: empty spaces! If a place is already full it would be hard to find space for new things, for new creativity, for new life.
I was struck by this simple yet profound answer. This is also what God desires most: empty spaces to fill with His presence. This is the deeper meaning of virginity, more than sexual purity as it has often been interpreted; it is more of an empty space, an empty heart which only God can fill.
Writing to the Christian community, St Paul speaks of a letter “written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of the human heart”. This is what Advent reveals: God can write His love letter into our humanity. Early Christian theologian Origen speaks of Mary as: “a waxed tablet upon which God could write anything, a book in which the Father wrote His divine Word”.
Advent means waiting. It teaches an important truth: in order for something sublime to be born there must be a proper time of pregnancy, of waiting, until the new life of God can develop within.
Fr Martin Cilia is a member of the Missionary Society of St Paul.