Creative waiting is an inescapable part of the plan of God.
Jacob waits in Laban’s house for the right bride. Job and Habakkuk are no strangers to the waiting place. These two cry out desperately, wanting to know the mind of God in their own situation. The God who works for those who wait for him is almost directly opposite to the idea of God that is current in the late twentieth century. We have seen God as some mountain to be explored or an argument to be understood — something for us to control. Rarely is it thought that a believer as one who waits for God.
In the Bible God takes the initiative at a time when it seems like we can only wait. We must wait, as Israel waited in exile. It is like a mother carrying a child in her womb; she waits for the baby to be born. It is like parents waiting for a teenager to become an adult, or a child waiting for Christmas.
Ours is not a culture that wants to wait.
We have been pushed ever faster in our desire to hurry up by the advances in technology. For instance, from the year Christ died until the year 1900, the fund of available information for people to know doubled one time. From 1900 to 1950, it doubled again. From 1950 to 1960, it doubled, and it has doubled every two years from 1960 to 2000. It’s trebled every year since! Our instant culture is impatient with having to wait for anything or ever being out of control. Each bombardment has made our culture impatient as well as insensitive.
Process, wait, incubate are not a part of our lifestyle. We are a now, hurry up, and turn-on culture.
Whatever technology has done to our culture, the ways of God have not changed. He still says to us, “Be still and know that I am God.” Advent tells us to be still, to be sober, and to make ourselves quiet so that we can receive the truth, a truth that we have been culturally conditioned not to receive. Advent is the waiting place. It prepares us for God’s greatest event. Advent is like a hush in a theatre just before the curtain rises. It is like the hazy ring around the winter moon that means the coming of the snow that will turn the night into silver. Advent means coming, and the promise of Advent is that what is coming is an unimaginable invasion.
An invasion of holiness. That is what Advent is all about. While in the waiting place, get quiet and receptive, like a child waiting to hear a bedtime story and the voice of his father. Hear again the story of the creation of the world, of God’s great garden, its destruction, and his efforts to start over again. Hear the story build through the lives of the patriarchs, the kings, the prophets, then its explosion on a starry night in Bethlehem as God’s new genesis begins.
Waiting through a pregnancy heightens the preparation for a child to be born. Gestation precedes celebration. Everything worthwhile needs incubation. Nothing worthwhile comes without preparation. Nothing worthwhile is born outside the waiting place. “The greatest revelation is stillness,” said Lao-Tzu, and it is most often in this stillness that we become aware of the Holy Spirit and Jesus. It is in this engraced stillness of Advent that we, after the example of Mary, surrender and become God-bearers in the world. In this stillness, we commit to being Christ’s presence in the world, the flesh of faith, the unfolding of the incarnation. God makes this plain: “They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength” Isaiah 40:31.
In other words, we have to wait for God to get the world ready. And for now, we must wait for God to get us ready. Thus, we need Advent to make ourselves ready for his coming. We need a season of soberness in a world of Christmas parties. We need Advent, the season of waiting, in a world that says go for it and hurry up. This waiting place called Advent not only prepares us for the birth of God in the flesh, it prepares each of our lives to receive him. This waiting place called Advent prepares us for God’s surprise and joy, or as Dr. Seuss says it, the next place where “boom bands are playing with banners flip-flapping.”
The waiting place prepares us for the angel chorus announcing his birth. Without the waiting place, our hearts are not sensitive and our appetites are not ready. Welcome to God’s waiting place. It is the necessary place of preparation. Christmas is God’s response to the cry of our hearts. It is Jesus Christ, God’s future, taking hold of our hearts — hearts that have confessed that they are falling leaves before the winter wind, hearts that are now ready to become moulded like clay. This could not have happened without the waiting place.
The waiting place changes our eyes.
While we wait, we live toward what we cannot begin to imagine. It’s winter now; it’s exile now; but what we expect on the other side, God’s presence, his revelation, his salvation, determines how we wait. The Christian in winter can wait for God to do what God has promised, knowing that nothing can ever tear us away from the love at work on our behalf. By waiting patiently and being open to the movement and processes of God rather than stubbornly refusing his offer of spirit and vision, we hear the boom bands playing and become receptive to his gifts of himself. We are fully alive in the face of whatever life’s situation we may find ourselves. “… No one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him” Isaiah 64:4.
Henri Nouwen, from an article in Weavings titled “Our Waiting,” says that all action ends in passion because the response to our action is out of our hands. That is the mystery of work, the mystery of love, the mystery of friendship, the mystery of community — they always involve waiting. And that is the mystery of Jesus’ love. God is revealed in Jesus as the one who waits for our response.
Precisely in that waiting the intensity of God’s love is revealed to us. If God forced us to love, we would not really be lovers. Will God come upon us in the power of holiness and find us unheedful, acting as if our salvation lies at the mall or in the catalogs or in the frantic face of holiday fever? Or will he come among us and find us actively waiting, open and present to the mystery of all mysteries? Will God find us “paying attention to Jesus,” as John the Baptist mentioned, or to the hundreds of lesser lights that dim the reality of the coming light? Will we, in other words, be open to an Advent discipline that is truly preparatory — to experience what the apostle Paul wrote: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6)?
One wonders just where and how the hush in the theatre before the curtain rises finds a place in our lives long enough to listen for the invasion of holiness. How and where does Advent in this sense of still waiting happen to us? How and where do we detach from, as Buechner says, “the mythology of our age”? How do we listen? How do we disengage from the invasion, from our worlds, long enough to see the hazy ring around the winter moon that means the coming snow that will turn the night into silver?
Stay awake. Be present. Move to the edge of your seat. The hidden is about to be made manifest. The ultimate exodus is unfolding.