Most of the time I hate waiting. When I’m ready to stream a TV show, I hate waiting even a few seconds for it to start. It seems like only yesterday I was fine with driving to the video store and spending 30 minutes looking for a movie to rent, but now the movie is beamed straight into my home and I get petulant when it doesn’t instantly start. I hate waiting in line at the supermarket even though throughout history and even today most humans had to grow, harvest and cook their food themselves. Living a middle-class life in America today means most everything is designed to happen on my own schedule, so when I must wait for something I blow a fuse.
Yet sometimes I must admit I enjoy waiting. If I can be bothered to think ahead and bring a book along with me, sitting in a doctor’s waiting room becomes a pocket of time where I can get lost in a good story. When I’m sitting in my car waiting to pick up one of my sons, provided I can put down my phone, I can listen to music for a few minutes and get lost in a favorite song. There are moments when I am forced to wait, moments when I can be intentional enough to set aside my smartphone pacifier, in which I find a relief from my frenetic activity. Those moments become something other than inconvenience, something that feels like grace.
The Advent season is a time of waiting—at least it’s supposed to be. In most years, it becomes a chaotic countdown to Christmas full of shopping, office parties, decorating and family dinners. This year the weeks before Christmas may be spent ordering things online. The church season however, reminds us that there is joy in the waiting if we are intentional about using our time for something other than stress and distraction.
I’m having trouble finding much joy in waiting this Advent, because 2020 has been a year of waiting: waiting for quarantine to end, waiting for a vaccine, waiting for a presidential election and waiting to discover what carefully laid plans will be cancelled next. I’m sick of waiting, so trying to get in the spirit of Advent seems sort of impossible. Yet, God’s people have always had times of waiting. The Bible is full of people waiting. From the Israelites in Egypt to the early church, from the writers of the Psalms to the Hebrew prophets, God’s people have always struggled during times they must wait for God to act. “How long, O Lord?” is a common refrain in scripture.
Since God could act anytime, there must be some value for us in the waiting? Dare we set aside our distractions, even for a moment, and see what such moments teach us?
Recently I read what Ernest Hemingway said about waiting. Injured in WWI, the famous author spent six months in a hospital ward. He observed how other patients endured their own waiting: some relied on distractions, others cried out in lament and others pondered the meaning of their lives. Hemingway later wrote about this experience, “The waiting does not break us, it reveals us.” If we have the courage to reflect on it, what has this year of waiting revealed about each of us? The Advent season offers us the chance to make good use of our waiting, because we can pause and see what God wants us to embrace or perhaps change about our efforts to find hope, peace, joy and love.
The minister and writer Tony Robinson shares that waiting is an essential part of faith in God.
If you're still waiting [for God], it means you haven't settled in, insisting that present arrangements are the be-all and end-all just because they happen to suit you.
You're still waiting.
And if you're still waiting, it means you haven't given up. You haven't decided, cynically, that it all amounts to nothing and why bother anyhow? You're still waiting.
Are you still waiting—fiercely waiting?
And here's the great thing . . . if you are still waiting, you stand an excellent chance of seeing Jesus.
If we are willing to learn what the season of Advent wishes to teach us, we may discover that this season of anticipation offers some essential keys to our spiritual lives. Author Michelle Blake writes, "One of the essential paradoxes of Advent: that while we wait for God, we are with God all along, that while we need to be reassured of God’s arrival, or the arrival of our homecoming, we are already at home. " We may cry out with the Psalmist, “How Long, O Lord?” and then discover a deeper level of trust in God’s presence even when what we want, need and hope for has yet to materialize.
In our waiting for Christmas each year, which is a metaphor for our waiting for God to act at any time all year long, we may even discover not only joy at God’s presence but also excitement as we anticipate what God will do in our lives. Just as God broke into the world in an unexpected way as a helpless infant born to a family without shelter, a family soon to become refugees running for their lives, God is just as capable of braking into the lives of you and me in unexpected ways. Waiting for that action of God can be like the excitement of waiting for Christmas morning when we were children.
Author Frederick Buechner writes the following about Advent:
The house lights go off and the footlights come on. Even the chattiest stop chattering as they wait in darkness for the curtain to rise. In the orchestra pit, the violin bows are poised. The conductor has raised his baton . . . The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment.
I wish you the courage to set down your distractions in order to wait with joy and excitement for what God is about to do in your life.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
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We're Park Hill Christian Church in KC MO. We seek to follow Jesus by praising God, loving those we meet and serving the vulnerable.