Advent is about waiting. When we are young it is about waiting for Christmas Day to come so that we can open the presents that have been tempting us under the decorated Christmas tree. As we are older it is about waiting for school to dismiss for Christmas vacation. As we grow to appreciate the Christmas story in all its fullness, it is appreciating the unfolding of the mystery of Christ’s birth, life and ministry as Emmanuel — God-With-Us.
But waiting is difficult in our culture. As the deficiencies of the website healthcare.gov show us, we expect things to function right now the first time. We don’t expect to wait in line, either physically or virtually for a business transaction to take place. Amazon.com has us spoiled with its “one click” ability to purchase whatever we see as soon as we see it on its website.
But it hasn’t always been this way. We remember when our Internet access was by dial up rather than the lightning speed of today’s modems. We remember when we had to locate a land line telephone before making a call rather than taking our cell phones out of our pockets. (Some of us even remember when we had to make contact with the “operator” who would place the call for us. And if someone else was on the party line, we had to wait until they finished with their conversation before we could get the operator’s attention and begin ours!)
Our culture is schooling patience right out of us by offering us nearly instantaneous responses to whatever it is we need. Some of us remember when central heating was the pot-bellied stove in the center of the main room of the house. Whoever was the first one to get up in the morning had to go fetch wood (or coal) and stoke the fire so that (eventually) the rest of the house would be warm enough for everyone to enjoy. No more. We have programmable thermostats which have the room temperature adjusted before we get out of bed. We could think of many more examples of how our culture makes it difficult for us to learn the patience of waiting.
Even the psalmist who begins Psalm 40 with the words “I waited patiently for the LORD…” and then goes on to tell of the wonderful gifts God gave (a new song, a delightful salvation from one’s enemies, a spoken testimony of God’s goodness) ends the psalm with the words “You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God.” It seems that no one is immune from the urge of impatience!
It may be wise that our Christian year begins with Advent. It is a gentle reminder that patience is still a virtue and one that we would do well to practice frequently. That’s how children are encouraged to grow and explore and learn — by being guided by patient parents and teachers and mentors who allow them to discover and learn (often by trial and error). In that sense, we are all still children, regardless of our chronological age. We are all still learning of the mysteries of God and of our place in God’s universe. We are all still waiting to be visited in profound and wonderful ways by our Maker. We are still waiting to be surprised by the wonderful and joyous gifts that God has for us. Are you waiting patiently for God’s arrival — in whatever form that may take — this season? God promises our patience will be rewarded. May it be so!