This word appears in the original Latin version of the Mass, in the prayer the priest prays between the “Our Father” and the ending “For the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory are yours…” It is a word that has special meaning in the Advent season.
I have many quibbles with the new translation of the Roman Missal, especially its attempt at over-literal renderings that make for impossible sentence structures and the attempt to make the language “sacral” by using words that remind me of doing essays in 8th grade that had to incorporate the new list of vocabulary words. But I digress…
Yes, what we say now in this prayer is more “faithful” to the Latin, but what it makes up in being literally correct it loses in poetry. Today, we hear this phrase (expectantes beatam spem) translated as “as we await the blessed hope.” The older, more poetic translation was “as we wait with joyful hope.” More literal? No. More fervent? Yes. But what’s the real point that I want to make? It is all about the nature of “expecting.”
No pregnant mother is simply “waiting” for the baby to be born—she (and the whole family) are expecting. That was, after all, our original English description for a mother-to-be: she was not simply “pregnant” or “carrying a fetus”—she was expecting a child. And she was filled with joyful hope that the child would be healthy, wonderful, beautiful… And she was filled with joy.
This brings us to the whole Advent season—a time when we Christians should also be filled with “joyful hope.” The process is muted (or mutilated!) by Christmas carols in stores virtually simultaneously with Halloween (all for the sake of commercialism), but Advent is intended to be a time of preparation and joyful hope. St Paul tells us as much: “In hope we were saved… if we hope for what we do not [yet] see, we wait with endurance” (Romans 8:24a, 25).
If I can revert back to Thanksgiving, it is the hope (the expectation) of a wonderful meal that keeps us from ruining our appetite with cans of Pringles or bags of Doritos. We are willing to hold off, to wait—in joyful hope of the meal to come. And, St Paul reminds us (Romans 5:5): “…[our] hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” To quote Hamlet (in an altogether different context), this is a consummation devoutly to be wished.
What can this Advent season be like for us? Can we refrain from excessive and early celebration? Can we actually long for the celebration of Christmas, remembering that a “coming” (the meaning of “Advent”) once in the past is simply the promise of another “coming” in the future? Can we spend the time between now and December 25 in true preparation of our hearts? As children, I remember being asked to supply a bit of straw for baby Jesus’ manger by doing good deeds—this is not just a childish practice, after all (read Matthew 5:16, 6:19-21, and 7:21)…
How prepared we can be is, in the final analysis, a function of how much we live in expectation: how much we “wait in joyful hope.”