As a Canadian citizen living in the US, I celebrate Thanksgiving twice. The Canadian version looks and tastes much like its American counterpart with one huge exception-it’s about six weeks earlier. Canadian winters are generally much more nervously insistent upon making their presence known. They never waited for anything! American Thanksgiving, rooted so much in the very history of this country, is a much bigger deal (not unlike all things American). Unfortunately…or perhaps fortunately…depending on one’s view, it often falls on the same weekend as the first week of Advent. I could spend time finding fun ways of linking those two things together. Instead, I give you my thoughts on Advent and its call for us to wait…
How many of us as kids were so uncontrollably “antsy” around Christmas time that our parents could hardly live with us? Do you recall the unbearable pangs of waiting for Christmas morning when that certain delightful item we’ve been harping about might just be waiting to greet us? We go through the motions of “being good boys and girls” so as to maximize our chances for a successful “haul” under the tree. Babies, our littlest ones – their needs are immediate, pressing and loudly trumpeted if unmet. The family has finally saved enough to indulge in that once in a lifetime vacation to somewhere even Disney couldn’t have imagined, and we’re stoked. We pace, we mark off days on our calendars, we fritter away all the endless days and hours in epic restlessness, barely hanging on to sanity in our unfettered excitement. We’re in college and the girl or boy of our dreams trips unwittingly into our orbit, and we’re smitten. We spend hours of time we don’t have simply listening to the sound of the other’s voice. For the indescribable joy of being in their presence we would gladly sacrifice grades, sleep, money, health and energy. These same young lovers graduate and get jobs at different ends of the country forcing them into that dreaded “long distance relationship.” Days feel like decades waiting for the next letter. Has he changed? Will she still find me breathtaking? Is he still faithful to me alone? Should I read into the extra day the last letter took to get here?
There really is no better time than Advent to talk about the mystery of waiting. Under the best of circumstances, the delayed gratification of waiting is not something we embrace easily. The culture we have built bullies us into thinking that unless we have the next trinket, the next job, the next vacation, the next relationship-right away-our lives are somehow incomplete. What compounds the situation is the fact that we have effectively done away with waiting through “no monthly payments, no interest for a year” or “buy now, pay later” or “sleep with me now and I’ll still love you” or “let’s order pizza since there’s no time to make dinner.” And on and on it goes.
It is said that waiting is a virtue. We’re just too anxiety ridden to be very good at it! The Bible is chock full of stories of those who waited. Noah and his family spent weeks inside a cramped handmade dumpster with some rather smelly roommates for months on end until it was safe to come out.
Abraham and Sarah, elderly by any standards (and not without a number of impatient glitches along the way), waited almost a century to receive God’s promise of progeny.
Joseph, a little arrogant to begin with, lands himself in a boat load of vengeance at the hands of jealous brothers and, later, had 14 years in a Pharaoh’s prison to do business with God.
Moses, impetuous and entitled, took matters in his own hands, killing an Egyptian, and then spent 40 years shoveling sheep shit on the backside of Mt. Sinai.
David, God’s man for Israel, was anointed King but spent years running from Saul and his upstarts before ever enjoying hat head from a crown.
An embattled, beleaguered, divided and dispersed nation of Israel had waited for centuries to hear a prophetic voice of hope; someone to assure them that God hadn’t forsaken them. And then…a devout priest, Zechariah and his barren wife, Elizabeth, get a most unexpected message, not by UPS camel, but by an angel that they were to become parents.
They had waited.
With the birth of their son, John, who came to be called “the Baptizer”, all of the previous waiting and watching and expectations were slowly finding resolution.
We as a thirsty people wait, too. The point, however, is not that we wait, but how we wait. It should be a coveted spiritual discipline to wait well. To live with ambiguity and still be faithful; to ponder paradoxes of our lives together and still lead each other to Christ; to sojourn in those desert places where we can’t always determine the way forward and still be grateful; to be stretched by unknown outcomes to baffling problems and still be present to each other; to fight the spiritual battles we didn’t ask for and rise again, bruised but better – this is the Way of Jesus.
I pray that in all my waiting, I do so actively. An active waiting helps us not just to “bide the time” but to engage one another at our places of deepest need. We must not wait like the newly released prisoners of Pharaoh whose impatience for Moses’ return from Mt. Sinai drew them into idolatry and destructive behaviors. Let us wait, instead, as John the Baptizer bids us wait – actively – bearing fruits of repentance. Like John before us, who enjoined his listeners to “prepare the way, making straight paths” for the Messiah who would soon follow, we must not give up hope in waiting. Even more importantly, let us remember that we do not merely wait for Jesus. We wait for one another; human and fallible people with imperfections, mixed motives, families to care for and a need for community. Let us all wait actively, without pretense or rivalries or bitter hearts, until God comes to us. Then will we see that waiting makes the most sense.