And so Advent begins! One Church year has ended, and a new one has begun. We approach the turning of the seasons, when the winter solstice marks the shortest day and the light begins its slow return, and at the same time we approach the fulfilment of prophecy in the birth of the Messiah and see afar off the fulfilment of future hope in the Messiah’s return. Advent is a season of contemplation, a time for meditating on the light of candles in the Advent wreath and the coming of spiritual light they signify. And above all it is a time of waiting, waiting to relive again the miraculous birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem of Judaea, waiting for the fulfilment of the ages in the Messiah’s sudden return.
In our modern day and age, our ability to contemplate, to meditate, and above all to wait, in Advent is compromised by the commercial machine that Christmas has become. The meaning of this birth and this second advent have been all but drowned out. We must work to carve out time for Advent, and not allow it to be hurried into Christmas, and Christmas busy-ness. We must learn expectant waiting.
This is hard. Our culture doesn’t teach us how to wait. We want rapid responses, to speed things up. And when we do have to wait for something, we want distractions from the annoyance or the tedium of the wait. Out comes the smartphone, and texting or social media or the like takes us away from the wait. We have not had an opportunity to develop expectant waiting. Perhaps this is why our Advent texts are full of reminders to stay alert and pay attention. After all, Jesus says, if the householder had known when the burgular was coming, they wouldn’t have gone to sleep and been robbed! If we are distracting ourselves with our smartphones, we’re in no better a situation than that householder, and just as likely to be surprised when the Day comes ‘like a thief in the night’.
But I’ll bet that when we were kids, we all knew what expectant waiting was, though we didn’t call it that. It was waiting for Christmas or birthdays to come. As adults, perhaps parents, we can still capture something of that sense of expectation, waiting for a loved one to receive a particular gift. But what if we try to focus on an Advent theme such as I’ve referred to above, the coming of light into a dark place, the promised birth, the return of Jesus? Wouldn’t that be worth waiting for, and waiting for in the same way that we wait for a child’s Christmas? Wouldn’t you be willing to wait for such a coming?
Think about that and what it might be like. Who might you wait for it with? Your friends? Your church family? What would it be like to wait for it? That is the experience of expectant waiting, Advent waiting. It’s our task as individuals, but also the task of the whole community, the whole Church, to enter into Advent in the spirit of expectant waiting. As you light your Advent candles, in your church or in your home, look for the light of Christ, coming into our lives and into our world, and wait.