Antipathy to waiting is exacerbated, if not encouraged, by the world in which we live. Our credit-driven society urges us to buy now; so many advertisements have as their underlying message "Why wait?" Improvements in communication erode the notion of waiting further. It is increasingly a strange notion; we have become accustomed to immediacy and swift action.
Given this, it seems almost ludicrous that the church should have with Advent four weeks dedicated to waiting. Is this not the church, yet again, looking backward to bygone days, to ideas irrelevant to our society, out of touch and out of date? Would it not be a better idea to abandon Advent altogether?
It was only when I was pregnant with my first child that I realized I had completely misunderstood what waiting was about. I have a very low boredom threshold and, consequently, am bad at waiting. Yet no one who is expecting a child wants the waiting to end and the baby to come early—that can only spell heartache. I began to discover that waiting is not just about passing time but that it has a deep and lasting value in and of itself.
Waiting can be a nurturing time. Pregnant waiting is a profoundly creative act, involving a slow growth to new life. This kind of waiting may appear passive externally but internally it consists of never-ending action and is a helpful analogy for the kind of waiting that Advent requires.
For many of us, Advent is such a busy time with all our preparations for Christmas that the thought of stopping and sitting passively is simply impossible. Advent, however, does not demand passivity, but the utmost activity: active internal waiting that knits together new life.
All told, Advent calls us into a state of waiting that recognizes and embraces glimmers of God's presence in the world, that recalls and celebrates God's historic yet ever present actions, that speaks the truth about the almost-but-not-quite nature of our Christian living, that yearns for but cannot quite achieve divine perfection. Most of all, Advent summons us to the present moment, to a still yet active, tranquil yet steadfast commitment.
It is this to which Advent beckons us, and without it our Christian journey is impoverished.
Adapted by permission of Paraclete Press. © 2009. All rights reserved.
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The Meaning is in the Waiting is available at ChristianBook.com and other book retailers.
Paula Gooder also wrote This Risen Existence: The Spirit of Easter.
Christianity Today has more articles on Advent and Christmas.
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