For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.
Most of us do not wait well. It is not in our nature. Our society tells us to “hurry up”, to “not waste time”, to “make the most of our time”. And so we run and we hurry and we go through the season with our lists and our parties and our hope against hope that we can get it all done. And then we get there. We will sit in the sanctuary on Christmas Eve like we have done every year and we will wonder, wonder where it all went, wonder what happened to the holiness of Advent waiting, wonder what happened to the joy of it all. Well, today is the beginning of the waiting, the beginning of living with hopeful expectation. Yes, this year will be different! We will light the first candle, the candle of hope and promise, the candle that calls us to wait.
Simone Weil once wrote that “waiting patiently in expectation is the foundation of the spiritual life.” Now, read that again. The point of her statement is not calling us to patience but to expectation. We are called to wait, yes, but to wait with the belief, no, more than belief, to wait with the conviction that someday, in some way, God will come. Think about it. Would you stand in line at the grocery store, impatiently looking at your watch, somewhat miffed at the women who is checking out 38 canned goods that were carefully concealed in the bottom of her basket, using 42 paper coupons (did you know that you can load those on your card, lady?), and then handing every known type of squash to the high school-age checker that has never seen these vegetables before if you didn’t know that, eventually, you would get there? Eventually, you will get to the front of the line. Would you sit there as the seconds roll into minutes and the minutes approach a partial hour as you wait to talk to a real person at the cable company? Eventually, as you know, SOMEONE will answer. And would you spend time sitting in the doctor’s waiting room (good grief, they don’t even make any bones about it–they just go ahead and call is what it is! What if they called it the expectation room? But no, someone way back there said, you know what, we’re going to make people wait and we’re going to build a room just for that purpose!) if you didn’t know that you really were going to be able to see the doctor? No, see, none of us would do all this waiting that we do without some level of expectation, some belief that the thing for which we are waiting really IS going to occur.
So why is Advent different? What does it mean to wait expectantly for God, not feeling compelled to make something happen or fill in the spaces that feel temporarily empty in our faith, but to just wait? Henri Nouwen said that “the whole meaning of the Christian community lies in offering a space in which we wait for that which we have already seen.” That’s right. Remember that we KNOW that this is going to happen, we KNOW that God will come because God has come before over and over through centuries of waiting and even in our own lives. Waiting is not some sort of grand proof that we are patient enough to be followers of Christ; waiting is a part of the story itself.
I remember when I was little. Christmas Eve was magical. We would drive home, usually near midnight, from Grandmother and Granddaddy Reue’s, and as we made our way down the dark roads between Fulshear and Katy, I used to look at the lit radio tower. I knew it was a tower but, just for that moment, it was Rudolph leading Santa to our house. Just for that moment, it was a glimmer of light in an otherwise darkened world. And when we got home, I would try and try to go to sleep but it was just all too exciting. Christmas was coming. It always came. And in some way, it changed the world. You see, to me, that time of waiting, that time of expectancy was part of Christmas itself. So, let a little magic into your life. Get into the spirit of waiting, waiting with expectation that God will come (because God always comes).
We are waiting for what we know. But the waiting is part of the journey itself. We wait with the expectation that the world will change. We live with the expectation that God will come when God will come and the world will finally know that hope has been born. We wait not because there is nothing else to do or because patience is some sort of virtuous way of being but because we know that each waiting moment is part of God’s bringing freedom and peace and life to us all. And, in every moment of every day of every lifetime, God waits with us, waits for the world to awaken to the light.
Blessed be the God of Israel, who comes to set us free, who visits and redeems us, and grants us liberty. The prophets spoke of mercy, of freedom and release; God shall fulfill the promise to bring our people peace.
On prisoners of darkness the sun begins to rise, the dawning of forgiveness upon the sinner’s eyes, to guide the feet of pilgrims along the paths of peace; O bless our God and Savior with songs that never cease!
“Blessed Be the God of Israel” (vs. 1,3), Michael Perry, 1973
Reflection: What does it mean to wait expectantly? What does God’s promise of life look like to you?
Grace and Peace,