Advent is often described as a time of waiting. And as a child, I was taught that we were waiting for the birth of Jesus. Such waiting was fun – full of starry nights, carol singing, and hot chocolate. When the wait was finally “over” and we returned from Midnight Mass, my mother would uncover the small figurine of the baby Jesus who was then lying in the manger with Joseph and Mary attentively watching him. The whole scene never failed to impress me: the crisp night air that embraced us while walking home from Mass, the family and friends who gathered at our home to partake in cookies, dried figs, and small glasses of Port until about 2 AM, the baby in the manger with his attentive parents and a variety of animals – many of which I’d helped arrange in the days prior to his arrival. All of this, in my estimation at the time, had indeed been worth the wait.
I have to admit that as I’ve grown older waiting is not always as much fun as it used to be. There’s waiting in line at the grocery store while the person in front of me has decided to have the price of each individual item double-checked, there’s waiting for the 86 Bus which conveniently decides to arrive earlier than scheduled causing me to have to wait an additional fifteen minutes in the 20-degree-weather before the next one comes along, and there’s waiting for papers and final exams to finally be over so that I can enjoy a bit of vacation before the next semester begins. Of course, there are also profoundly frightening moments of waiting – waiting for the results of a medical test, waiting to know if a loved one is safe, waiting to see if that person who just collapsed on the sidewalk is in fact going to be okay. I think that’s what makes waiting so difficult: it reminds us that we are never in as much control as we would like to be. And this is humbling, perhaps as humbling as God becoming human, sleeping in a manger, breaking bread with so-called outcasts, and hanging on a cross. The lesson of Advent and its waiting, I think, is not that God demands our humility, but that God shows us how to live in the midst of all the chaos (sometimes happy and sometimes sad) that is human life. It is not a passive waiting, it is not simply a call to hum along with John Mayer and wait “on the world to change.” Rather, it is a call to remember that the world has changed and is ever-changing; it changed in God becoming one of us, and it changes as we continuously become one with God.