In the church, we often describe the Advent season as a time of waiting and watching. Knowing how most people feel about waiting, I sometimes wonder if associating Advent with waiting is such a good idea. Come wait with us! It sounds like about as much fun as watching grass grow. I can’t help but imagine many folks, upon hearing our invitation to come and wait, thinking to themselves, “Great! Now I not only have to wait for a parking place at the mall and then at the cash register and then at the gift wrap department, but not I have to wait at church, too?”
Waiting is no fun. And, ironically, I think our patience for waiting probably gets shortest at Christmas – when it seems like everywhere we go becomes a waiting room. But I want to suggest that waiting doesn’t have to be such a negative experience. It doesn’t have to be a passive activity in which we place our lives on hold – growing ever more anxious and agitated in the process. The kind of waiting described in the Bible is active – a time of preparation and spiritual growth.
Years ago, I heard the story of a young man who was very seriously ill and in the hospital. When it became clear he wasn’t going to get to go home for a long time, he began to get depressed. About that time, he was visited by a wise old hospital chaplain. After a short conversation, the chaplain asked the young man, “So what are you going to do with this wonderful opportunity God has given you?” The young man looked at the chaplain like he had lost his mind. So the chaplain continued, “You now have the time to read and pray like you never have before. Are you going to take advantage of this time to improve yourself intellectually and spiritually or are you going to spend all your time feeling
sorry for yourself?”
Years later, that young man would say his conversation with the chaplain turned out to be a significant turning point in his life – when he began to see his stay in the hospital not as a time of interminable waiting, but as a gift from God.
Advent is a sort of waiting room God has given us – not to burden us with more waiting, but so we might have space to prepare ourselves for the birth of Christ in our world and in our hearts. Perhaps what we need to do, then, is rearrange our thinking so we can begin to see our waiting – in traffic, at the mall, at the doctor’s office – not as an unbearable waste of time, but more like a sacrament. Perhaps we need to begin to see our waiting as an opportunity to feel joy instead of frustration, to offer up prayers instead of snarling out curses, and to be thankful for all we have instead of being anxious about what we don’t have. If we can turn potentially frustrating and anxietyproducing times into opportunities to grow closer to God, I believe that in some small way, we can change the world.
So – hurry up and wait! It may very well be the most valuable thing you do this Christmas.