If you every bought a house, or moved from your parent’s home into an apartment, the excitement of a new experience is fabulous. Finally, you have a place of your own, you can make all the decisions about your future. You may look around and imagine that floor needs a rug and that wall needs a picture. As the boxes are emptied, and belongings are placed where they should go, what do you do then?
The move is over and it is time for you to begin to live in your home. Very quickly you realize the novelty wears off pretty quickly. The rooms become as dusty and cluttered as did the place you left behind. The picture hung with such care is barely noticed anymore and you become very familiar with your surroundings with the emotional level to match. Once the excitement has passed and now you find yourself right square in the ‘middle time.”.
“Middle time” does not only relate to changing and environment, for the illustration was used to introduce the topic. “Middle time” is a condition of life. In a macro sense we are born, we live and die. In a micro sense, every journey we begin has a beginning, a middle part and an end. Unlike the beginning where something new distracts our attention, and the end where there is a greater awareness of the finish line, the middle part can sometimes be perfunctory, and therefore possibly be very dangerous. They don’t call it a midlife crisis for nothing.
The danger of the middle part of the journey can give rise to ruts, which sometimes gives rise to anxiety which sometimes gives rise to a lack of joy. The risk of wanting time to pass more quickly is a precarious spiritual place to be especially in a culture which does not encourage any delayed gratification. No one should wish life goes quickly with the only exception of a four-year-old’s who can’t wait for Santa to come with their gifts.
Our Gospel this weekend tells us the anxiety which can come from the “middle time” is universal and timeless. Two thousand years ago the rising levels of anxiety of those who were following John the Baptist can be seen in this phrase, “wondering in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah.” Note the wording: “wondering in their hearts” are strong words to indicate that their longing was not superficial. Strong words also to indicate that those who expected the Messiah were beginning to feel the effects of the “middle time.” Some could not wait for the prophecies to come true and chased after false gods. They could not handle the time of preparation for the true Messiah, their thoughts and actions proved to be premature and tragic for they missed out on the joy and ecstasy that only the Savior of the world could give.
In our life we are faced with a similar situation. We have come to a point where our preparation for the Christ child may seem to have taken too long. We become very impatient and frustrated. It’s time for Christmas already, we think.
The temptation of not holding on and persevering is a temptation not only during Advent but a metaphor for our entire lives. The Church in all her wisdom knows exactly this feeling, and directs us to the third Sunday of Advent also known as, Gaudete Sunday translated as rejoice. Rejoice because what we should anticipate is more joyful, more precious, and more alive than we could have ever expected. “Rejoice… The Lord himself is near. Dismiss all anxiety from your minds.”
We have good reason for rejoicing: The Lord is indeed at hand. In a very short time, he will be with us in a special way, but not without some patience. Walter Burghardt so beautifully reminds us:
“You must be men and women of ceaseless hope, because only tomorrow can today’s human and Christian promise be realized; and every tomorrow will have its own tomorrow, world without end. Every human act, every Christian act, is an act of hope. But that means you must be men and women of the present, you must live this moment— really live it, not just endure it— because this very moment, for all its imperfection and frustration, because of its imperfection and frustration, is pregnant will all sorts of possibilities, is pregnant with the future, is pregnant with love, is pregnant with Christ.”