Advent invites the people of God to wait.
But who wants to wait?
Amid a worldwide pandemic, waiting seems even more dense and tense, dark and heavy-handed than usual. Our routines, connections, and comforts the world over have been stripped from us. We sequester apart from what is familiar. We wait, not even sure when we will know we are done waiting.
Advent, from the Latin word adventus, starts the Christian liturgical calendar. Adventus carries a definition of arrival, of coming, of a visit. So, here in Advent, we wait the coming. We also begin the liturgical year’s cycle of feasts and fasts centered around the life of Christ.
We wait in Advent between two places: Christ’s first coming and Christ’s second coming.
Any announcement of pregnancy comes with an expectation of waiting for birth to occur sometime in the future, usually nine months down the road. Yet when we look back for the birth announcement of Jesus, the first “joyous news” alert appeared a long way back; back in a perfect garden that became the birthplace of the imperfect ways of sin and the need for a rescue to come.
Shrouded in mystery, unless one has foreknowledge to know what they are looking for, most of us don’t even realize that God made the first quite subtle announcement about Jesus’ arrival oh-so-long ago.
To a serpent, with Adam and Eve in the audience, God said:
“…I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will crush your head, and you will strike His heel.” Genesis 3:15
That’s a rather vague announcement of Jesus’ eventual birth here on earth.
Tumble on through the Old Testament and you’ll find give-or-take 400 prophesies that forecast Jesus’ arrival somewhere down the road. Yet the words are not as definitive as we’d like so the wait is inexact.
Prophets offer glimpses of a future Redeemer to give us a way into the deep heart of intimacy with our God. Then a four-hundred-year deafening silence stymies those who wait for more, leaving God’s people struggling yet longer.
Waiting holds the tension of promises made and of promises not yet kept.
And who among us likes to wait?
Then, in a few scant lines of dialogue, years, no, centuries of waiting simply falls away.
An angel startles a young Joseph, a young Mary with a rather unorthodox announcement. A soon-to-be arrival will offer release and relief of the tension of the long wait, making way for a Jesus.
But, can you imagine being Joseph or Mary? I’m not sure this announcement relieved them. How strange their entry into waiting must have been.
“A Child will come to you through the Holy Spirit.”
And by the way, this arrival will fulfill centuries-long prophesies and promises. But, for those two, well, there would be a whole new set of tension and waiting.
The angel’s words certainly didn’t fulfill what that young man and young woman expected for their future. And it all seemed even a bit preposterous, didn’t it?
Yet here’s one of the keys to Advent.
It comes to invite us to suspend what we expect and expect instead what only God will suspend in front of us.
We enter the opposite of what we imagine.
Advent and its practices of slow and low allows us to enter the opposite of what the world imagines.
Hustle-bustle goes into overdrive in December, stacking up expectations higher than any presents stacked under a fir-green Christmas tree. Perfect images of perfect entertainment and perfect gifts shout loud for attention. And those lists of gifts and trips to the post office or customs office? They probably won’t be quite what someone really wanted or will only hold someone’s attention for a blink of a glittery Christmas afternoon.
Advent instead invites us to slow down, go low in our hustle-bustle, and instead, visit the heart of God and therein discover our own heart.
What gift is it I really seek?
What will hold me into the mystery of waiting on Jesus’ arrival?
Waiting holds the tension of promises made and promises not yet kept.
And who among us likes to wait?
Yet it is Advent’s adamant invitation.
Unfold the slow of wait.
Notice the ways waiting invites us to hold space for wonder, for imagination, for loss, for sorrow, for what we think we need and what we really need.
Ponder the One who came from heaven to make earth home.
How is He inviting us to visit the hope of heaven, our truest home?
We watch for what Jesus is up to, in the chronicles of time and space, and within our own impatient hearts we discover we need the coming of Jesus much more than we imagined.
Advent invites us to:
Jesus, how has Your past visit to earth transformed my present moment?
Jesus, how does Your future visit shift the impatience, the hopelessness, the spaciousness of waiting within me?
Jesus, what does waiting invite in me that surprises me? Unsettles me? Comforts me?
Jesus, how am I waiting?
Jesus, why is waiting such a puzzling place for me?
May Advent unveil the heart of you and the heart of the One who came for you. In the long quiet choice to be more attentive in Advent to what you are waiting upon, may you find afresh the Christ who came, who comes, and who is coming again.
Do you find waiting hard? Don’t miss what God has for you this month, learn to “scale the wall of waiting” and encounter Christ. Your soul will thank you for this month’s workshop lead by spiritual director Lane Arnold. Watch it today.