Of late, I have been particularly observant that people are picking up this Advent season on the subject of waiting. Bonhoeffer especially is known in his devotional for writing about Advent as a time of waiting. During the season of advent we practice waiting by not letting Christmas 'out of the bag' too quickly. We focus our devotional reading on the prophets in the Old Testament, reading about God's promises to act in redemption in the midst of a messed up, sinful, wrecked world. We patiently think through these aspects as we wait to uncork the full festivities of Christmas--unlike the secular and non-liturgical Christian culture around us which is in a rush to get to Christmas as quickly as possible.
As it pertains to waiting, then, Advent serves as a microcosm of the entire Christian life, for we are waiting for God to act: to finally redeem the world in the Second Coming of Jesus but also in the day-to-day activities of life where very often it seems that God's schedule is not our schedule. Many times we are waiting, as Old Testament Israel waited, for God to break into our lives and act. We wait on God. We wait on grace. And in so doing, we grow closer to him because through waiting we become more and more dependent upon him. We finally come to the recognition that we are really pretty powerless to enact the things we want / need. As much as we hate that notion, and in some sections of contemporary American Christianity are deliberately taught the opposite, history and experience bears it out. Yes, we labor. Yes, we struggle. Yes, we persevere...and yet, ultimately we wait on God for the act of waiting is the most humble, spiritual, faithful thing we can do.
This sort of faithful waiting is one of the most counter-cultural aspects of the Christian life, especially in our Western, non-stop, go-get-'em, always-on society. Waiting is considered passive, and passivity is a bad thing. "Why wait?" our culture proclaims, "After all, we have an unconquerable soul." In its attitude our society trumpets, "I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul." Waiting on anything is viewed as lazy or foolish. Waiting on God, we are told, is patently absurd.
Yet, we must wait.
So exactly how do we wait? What do we do while we're waiting.
First, we read Scriptures. The word of God gives us life. We must drink deeply from its well if we are to survive in the barren and parched land of our secular society. For the past six months I have been using the American Luther Publicity Bureau prayer book, For All the Saints, which uses the two-year daily lectionary from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer along with a 30 day (or as I'm using it, 60 day) reading plan for the Psalms. While reading all parts of Scripture is profitable, the Psalms are second to none in their earthiness and candor. Here there is wisdom, encouragement, rebuke, etc. to address any and all situations in which we might find ourselves. To wait, we must imbibe of the word, especially from the Psalter.
Then, we pray. Should it go without saying that as Christians we must pray? Of course. And yet, in my experience, prayer is very often something we talk about all the time and are relatively unsuccessful in putting into practice. For All the Saint is good here, too, because of its daily prayers and Morning/Evening Prayer orders for worship. Regarding prayer, though, many times I feel myself at a loss for words, stumbling over the same prayers again and again and again from day to day. In these times, I have found the Jesus Prayer to be wonderfully effective in turning my focus prayerfully to God even in those times when words fail. This time-tested prayer is far from vain repetition, an accusation often leveled at it. Instead it is a deliberate way to focus one's attention solely on God in what may be otherwise a time of distraction.
Lastly, we are expectant. This is a big word pointing out the reality of waiting--there is a lot of nothing involved in waiting, but our waiting on God is not just sitting and doing nothing. Through it all we maintain our hope-filled expectation that God is at work and will act in our lives and our world...on his time and according to his schedule. Lest our waiting be confused for mere idleness, we hold God's promises ever before our faces (through Scripture and prayer) as we wait, confident in them and in the One who gave them. While we wait we are doing little, but we are not disengaged.
If there is such a thing as active waiting, that is the type of waiting that describes Advent and the whole of the Christian life. May God richly bless our waiting.
Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash