On Advent and Waiting

Originally published Tuesday, 03 December 2013.

The signs, tastes, and smells of Christmas are everywhere. Like so many, I always look forward to this time of year. It is a special time of slowing down, of savoring the sweet moments with friends and family and of focusing my heart on Christ and his birth.

The word "advent" means arrival or coming of something anticipated. The weeks preceding Christmas is a time of waiting as we prepare our hearts for the arrival of the Christ child. Like Mary, we "ponder these things" about Christ. We wonder in amazement and marvel with joy that God would take on flesh and enter this messy world of ours. Advent gives us the opportunity to dwell on the Love that arrived in the most unexpected of places, a stable. And it reminds us that we are awaiting the second Advent and Christ's final return.

Though I love Advent, in reality I am not very good at waiting. In fact, I am a rather impatient person. It drives me crazy when I send my children to put on their shoes and they get distracted during the ten feet they have to walk to get their shoes. I don't like traffic and I think life would be better if the grocery store opened a lane just for me when I arrive with my shopping cart to check out.

I'm not alone. This preference for life to move at a steady, if not in over-drive pace, is common in our culture. We thrive on instant gratification. We don't tolerate lines, slow computers, and saving before we buy. Our news and information must come in 140 characters or less or we just won't read it. Instead of living in and enjoying the moment, we have already passed the moment by, pushing our way into the future.

The Israelites were not keen on waiting either. When Moses went on the mountain to be with God, they grew weary of waiting for his return. They decided that perhaps he had died and left them on their own. So while he was alive and well on the mountain, receiving the law written in God's own hand, the people were in the valley, constructing a golden calf to worship instead of the one true God.

Too often, this is the story of my own heart. I refuse to wait for God and instead construct idols, false substitutes and counterfeit lovers to fill the void. But I want to wait. I want to be found faithful in the valleys of life. I want to live with restlessness, choosing to wait, rather than creating idols that can never satisfy. I want to cast aside all the cheap imitations and save my appetite for the real thing.

"Not everyone can wait; neither the sated nor the satisfied nor those without respect can wait. The only ones who can wait are people who carry restlessness around with them and people who look up with reverence to the greatest in the world. Thus Advent can be celebrated only by those whose souls give them no peace, who know that they are poor and incomplete, and who sense something of the greatness that is supposed to come, before which they can only bow in humble timidity, waiting until he inclines himself toward us--the Holy One himself, God in the child in the manger. God is coming; the Lord Jesus is coming; Christmas is coming.  Rejoice, O Christendome!" (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

Like a fruit picked well before ripeness, rushing through life leaves a sour and bitter taste. Much is missed when we speed through our days in a blur. The truth is, the most important and beautiful things that come from waiting. Seeds planted, then watered and provided sun, grow full and healthy until the harvest. Nine months of pregnancy results in the birth of a precious child. A friendship nurtured over time results in deep trust. When the heart is quiet, contemplative in prayer, and meditates on God's word, the waiting results in a soul filled full and satisfied.

"Lord Jesus, master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas. We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day. We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us. We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom. We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence. We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light. To you we say, "Come Lord Jesus!" (Henri J. M. Nouwen)

I pray that we are those who can wait. I pray for quiet hearts that seek Christ in the midst of tinsel, pretty wrapping paper, parties and wish lists. As we go through Advent, pondering the story of Christmas and awaiting the Christ-child, may it remind us of the waiting we do for his second coming. And when he returns, may he find us faithful, ready to feast on the complete joy found only in him.

How are you at waiting? Are you satisfied by temporary pleasures and imposters or will you wait for the real thing?