The Waiting Game

SCRIPTURE: Mark 13: 32-33

But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 

Once again, we’re being told to wait.  Most of us don’t do that well.  We’re so accustomed to instant results and instant gratification.  We have become creatures dependent on microwaves, high-speed internets, and never-ending freeways.  We are used to getting what we need and what we want NOW.  We’ve seen that this year when we are being told to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe and patiently wait for a Covid vaccine or for the virus to begin to subside.  But millions of us still packed onto airplanes, into potentially unsafe holiday gatherings, and into probably much too crowded stores to begin our holiday shopping.  (Insert eyeroll here!) Yeah, we don’t wait well.

But this passage reminds us that faith is essentially a waiting game.  It is the season of preparation but we tend to equate preparation with knowing what will happen, when it will happen, and how many people will be involved.  But Advent preparation is not about planning; it is about a sort of active waiting.  “Adventus”, the Latin from which our season derives, means arrival or coming.  It’s only partially about looking ahead.  Think of it as a place between two ways of being, a threshold between God’s coming into this world some 2,000 years ago and the promised coming for which we wait.  Part of it is remembering.  And part of it is entering what is to come.  It’s not a checklist; it’s an act of faith.  Waiting is an act of faith.  It’s not temporary.  It’s not preparing for the “Thing”.  Waiting IS the “Thing” in this season. 

In The Life of Moses, 4th century theologian and Eastern Church Father, St. Gregory of Nyssa, talks of the incarnations of God, as in more than one.  He talks of the many comings of God—the moving of God’s Spirit over the waters, the burning bush, the cloud of knowing—that for him leads up to the Incarnation of God in the form of a human, the Birth of Jesus Christ.  But if those who were waiting for the (big “I”) Incarnation had put everything into that, ignoring all those places in their lives where God burst in and was made known, all those (small “i”) incarnations, then they never would have been fully prepared as faithful people to welcome God into the world.

Advent is not “pre-Christmas”.  It’s not really meant to only be the time that we get ready for the big day.  We cannot live one season ahead.  God will come when God will come.  The full revealing of God has in store is yet to be.  But this Season of Waiting awakens us to what has already started to be so that we’ll know the pathway that we are to take.  The feast has yet to begin but the dancing has started.  So we stay alert to the incarnations that God inserts into our lives.  And we dance with them.  And we wait.  We just have to wait.

You must give birth to your images.  They are the future waiting to be born.  Fear not the strangeness you feel.  The future must enter you long before it happens.  Just wait for the birth, for the hour of new clarity. (Rainer Maria Rilke)

Grace and Peace,


A Light in the Darkness

Scripture Text:  Isaiah 64: 7-8

7There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. 8Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.

The first Sunday of Advent…the first Sunday of a new year in the Christian calendar.  It is the Season of Waiting, the season of looking toward the Light.  But this one feels…oh…so different.  Normally, the culture is pushing us toward fulfillment, toward instant gratification, trying to get us to buy into the mindset that we have to jump while the prices are hot, buy while the getting is good, check off our lists before everything is gone.  But this weekend there were pictures of empty malls and empty stores and what seems to be a somewhat slow start to the season of frenzy.

This year feels so slow to me, as if it’s an old slow motion reel that clips through each and every frame with no real connection.  Thanksgiving was scaled back and I haven’t even started thinking about Christmas gifts (unusual for me).  It feels dark somehow.  I’m tired—tired of masks and social distancing and staying home, tired of growing numbers of cases and deaths and the dangling and undangling of a vaccine that seems so close and yet way out on the horizon.  I miss my friends.  I miss sitting and having coffee and talking.  I miss having a glass of wine in a real restaurant.  I miss Brian, my funny flamboyant friend who is one of those ticking numbers of deaths from this plague.  I miss who we were.

And, yet, maybe in an odd way this Advent is closer to the time that we are supposed to remember in this season, that time of waiting, of darkness, the time when God somehow felt far away and yet, in the opacity of the clouds, there was still a faint light on the horizon.  It was a reminder that no matter what, God is there, shaping us into who God envisions we can be.  And maybe in the bright lights and frenzy of Advents past, in the somewhat panicky culture of the countdown of shopping days and crowded stores, in the packed calendars and the perfect plans, we forgot.  We forgot that God comes to us in the darkness, somewhat hidden, and leads us to the Light.

I suppose that it is right that God appears to hide from those who seek the Lord.  I suppose it is true that God has somehow hidden the face of the Divine from us.  But, really, what would you do if you knew, knew all that was God, knew what God looked like?  What would be the purpose of continuing on this faith journey, of expecting God to mold us and make us?  We are comfortable with waiting for a child to come, for a birth to happen, for the glorious gestation that our biological makeup requires that we endure.  But it happens in the darkness, hidden from our view.  Creation was the beginning, the beginning that came to be in the darkness.  And now we wait.  We wait for eternity to come to be.

Advent teaches us just that.  It doesn’t merely teach us to wait; it shows us that for which we wait.  The Advent season is three-fold.  It is a remembrance of the waiting for the birth of Emmanuel; it is the realization that we must wait in our lives, that we must experience the waiting for God to come to us; and it is the practice that we need to wait for God’s coming into the world in its fullest, the waiting of the glory that is to come.  If we don’t learn to wait, even in the darkness, we will never know what God’s Coming means.  Look….there, there in the darkness on the distance horizon…there is the faint vision of a Light.  God is at work, molding and shaping it.  Just wait….even in the darkness.  Because, think about it, you can’t see light when you are standing in light.  It is in the darkness, the holiness of the hiddenness, that the Light begins to emerge.  Sometimes the purpose of our places of darkness are to compel us to move so that we can finally see the light.

Why fear the dark?  How can we help but love it when it is the darkness that brings the stars to us? What’s more: who does not know that it is on the darkest nights that the stars acquire their greatest splendor? (Don Helder Camara)

Grace and Peace,