Every day in December, our youngest granddaughter asks my wife or me the same question: “How many days now until Christmas?” I am quite sure she knows the answer. But still she asks!
We don’t much like waiting. Most of us have had the experience of sitting and waiting for a doctor office appointment. We know our turn will come eventually. But still we check our watch. And often we fret. We also wait impatiently (and occasionally, fearfully) for a doctor’s visit to our hospital room or in a family waiting room while a loved one is in surgery.
And there are airport waiting areas, often noisy places with frequent loudspeaker interruptions of incoming or outgoing flights—or the dreaded notification of flight delays.
The “waiting room” is scarcely a positive image. Frankly, it is very hard to create a positive mental image of any waiting space?
And yet, this is exactly what is asked of us during Advent every year. To do just that! We are invited to wait in positive expectation. Advent is about creating a waiting room in our hearts.
The “waiting room” is one of the paradoxes of Christian living. It is one of the great positive images of the Bible. The Psalmist writes, “For God alone my soul waits in silence.” (Psalm 62) Or, again, “Take courage, wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27) Or, “Our soul waits for the Lord.” (Psalm 33) Or as Isaiah reminds us so beautifully, “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. (Isaiah 40)
Luke’s early narrative tells us of at least six people who waited for “Christmas”: Zachariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, Simeon, and Anna.
Advent calls us to a spiritual “waiting room.” Yet it is often during this season that we have so little time for waiting. A parcel package service had a slogan a few years ago which read, “We WHISH you a Merry Christmas.” How apt is that? We spend so much time with the urgent that we have little time for the important. Instead of a season of waiting, Advent becomes a season of doing.
Nevertheless, this is a season to cultivate the power of the waiting spirit of the Biblical tradition. Simone Weil, the Jewish writer, once wrote, “Waiting patiently in expectation is the foundation of the spiritual life.” That’s quite a challenge for us. And quite a promise!
Advent calls us to a waiting room within. The season invites us to expect new and confirming moments with God. Waiting is an active discipline. We listen actively.
Surely there is no greater stability and strength for the Christian leader—or for the struggling, searching soul—than the open, prepared, expectant waiting room of the human heart.
Will you coach a bit of that waiting spirit in the next few weeks?