By Sister Elise Saggau
Advent is a time when we focus on gifts. Have you ever gotten a bill for a gift you received? Imagine how that would feel. The nature of a gift is that it is free! Our lives come to us precisely as gifts, pure gifts, free gifts, no bills coming due. And don’t we all love to receive a gift? G.K. Chesterton once observed: “Everything looks better when it looks like a gift.” We need to understand better how our life is a gift and our one great responsibility in life is to receive it, with wonder and with gratitude. “The aim of life is appreciation,” says Chesterton. “There is no sense in not appreciating things.”
Our faith assists us in this crucial task of appreciating things. If we are to understand our lives as gift, we must also understand how poor we are. If all that we are has been given, it means we have not earned it and we are not the ones who give it meaning. If our very life has been given to us, it means we would not have it otherwise. We can’t shop for it; we can’t surf the web for it; we can’t order it through Amazon. No, we must wait and pay attention. We must notice what is happening and try to discern our own particular calls and respond generously and trustingly. That is the nature of being creature.
Theologian Paul Tillich observes that our basic condition before God is one of “not having, not seeking, not knowing, and not grasping.” It is not easy for us to endure not having God. But, in fact, how could anyone ever have God? Can we grasp God as though God were just one thing among other things? We might believe that we know and understand God, how God thinks and how God acts. But think about it. Is it easier to know God than to know a human person? The truth is, we always have to wait for a human being. Even in the most intimate relationships between human persons, there is an element of not quite having and not quite knowing. There is always an element of mystery. We must always wait and see.
If this is so, how much more must we wait before God, who is infinitely hidden and infinitely free. We really cannot figure God out. We must wait for God in the most absolute and radical way. God is mystery, the one for whom we must always wait. Advent is the season when we consciously embrace the position of waiting. God is coming. God is on the way. Wait! Hope! Expect!