Candles are lit on a wreath during the fourth week of Advent. CNS photo/Michael Alexander, Georgia Bulletin

Luke Stocking: Advent activists prepare the way

By 
  • December 11, 2021

Isn’t it funny that the liturgical year starts with a period of waiting? Every year we get things going, by waiting. We wait for the birth of Christ through the season of Advent. I think this is fascinating and worthy of contemplation. Recently I found a source for such a contemplation in our country’s two official languages.

Where I work there is a constant mix of English and French. This means I have words in my vocabulary that sound English but don’t really exist — like “planification.” My daily bilingual/bicultural work environment is a gift, opening me up constantly to new and interesting ways of understanding our country and our world.

Consider how one would say, “We are waiting for the birth of Jesus”: “Nous attendons la naissance de Jésus.” In French, the verb “to wait” is translated as “attendre.” And the reflexive, “s’attendre” is translated as “to expect.” This of course, sounds a lot like our own verb “to attend.” What I like about the French way characterizing reality of Advent is that it strikes me as very active. I think Advent is active — full of expectation and energy!

Waiting is not something that I generally associate with energy and attention. Maybe it is because I was influenced by the Dr. Seuss book Oh, The Places You’ll Go! At one part of the story, Seuss describes “a most useless place,” called “the waiting place … for people just waiting.” The image in the book always depressed me. All those people waiting for different things seem so … lifeless.

That kind of waiting is not what Advent is about. Sometimes we Christians are ridiculed as if it were though. We are laughed at, scorned or simply dismissed as irrelevant as we wait for something that people tell us is either not there or will never appear among us — that we are waiting for Godot.

No, the waiting, the attending, is an active exercise of preparation for something we know is going to happen. We know that God is going to burst forth into the world as a child in a manger with a choir of angels heralding His arrival.

There is an old spiritual song called, “Jesus is coming.” Its lyrics are quite simple:

Jesus is coming,
Jesus is coming,
Jesus is coming.
Oh Yes I know.
Oh Yes, I know.

It became a South African Freedom song, and to the name of Jesus verses were added with synonyms for His name: “Justice,” “Peace” and “Freedom.” That is the song I learned as a young Catholic activist. “Oh Freedom” was the name I knew it by. It still gives me chills and inspires me.

It is a song that sounds lovely when sung by choirs in churches. But really it is meant to be sung in the streets. It is meant to be sung when staring down apartheid. One of my most memorable times singing it was at the FTAA protests in Quebec City in 2001 as we marched towards a line of riot police and knelt down in prayer before them, seeking the conversion of an economic system wrecking havoc on our world.

The words most perfectly capture what it is for me to be a Catholic activist. People always ask how we who work for a better world maintain hope. It is easy – we are Advent activists. Despite all the terrible things that happen in our world, despite all the violence, oppression and injustice, we know that Jesus is coming. We know that justice and peace are coming. And all our attention is directed towards it — not passively waiting but preparing the way.

I once read an article that argued those of us who believe that another world is possible and who work for positive social change are not “resisters” or “alternative.” It argued that we are, in fact, “mainstream” because the long arc of history is towards the good.

As a Christian, I believe the long arc of history is towards God. This means that it is those who seek to dominate, oppress, exploit and murder the innocent who are the actual “resisters.” They are seeking to stop the mighty river of God’s abundant love and goodness and it is not possible.

Jesus is coming — ask an Advent activist who knows.

(Stocking is Deputy Director of Public Awareness & Engagement, Ontario and Atlantic Regions, for Development and Peace.)

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