"...you take it on faith, you take it to heart, the waiting is the hardest part.”
On a day when Christmas carols are in order, I feel the need to break from tradition a little. No surprise. But I feel the need to do so, because as I was reflecting on the reading for today one song kept popping up in my head.
It’s not a Christian song by any measure, but I do think it captures the sentiment of Advent as well as any song found in a hymnal. And I believe it teaches us how to put Christ back in Christmas.
Let’s see if you can recognize the chorus of the song: “The waiting is the hardest part, every day you see one more card, you take it on faith, you take it to heart, the waiting is the hardest part.”
Written by Tom Petty, “The Waiting” is a song about just that: waiting for your dreams to come true. Petty taps into the kind of optimism that has driven countless songs, books, and nearly every Disney movie ever made.
The season of Advent is not so much about dreaming as it is about waiting for Christmas to arrive. How we wait is equally as important as what we are waiting for.
Everywhere you look, the world’s busyness is pointed towards Christmas. But seldom is it pointed toward the coming of the Christ child. Even today’s passage from Mark has us looking somewhere other than the manger. Instead of kicking off with angels and virgins, we get heavenly earthquakes and stars dropping from the sky.
Such strange, apocalyptic imagery might be good for those ancient Palestinians who awaited the day of the Messiah. But we’re more sophisticated than those country bumpkins, aren’t we?
We know exactly the day when Jesus will come, right? After all, we have advent calendars filled with little chocolate squares to help us count down the to the big day.
But there’s a big difference between waiting for Christmas and waiting for Christ.
Obviously, we know that Christmas will come every year on Dec. 25th. And when it comes we pretty much know what to expect. There will be some surprises to unwrap, but for the most part Christmas day is pretty much planned out well in advance. However, waiting for Christ to come – or come again – requires something more, an expectant watchfulness and presence that helps us stay prepared for the day when Jesus will walk among us.
Being present is hard because it requires us to “keep our heart open and soft, and our mind receptive without division or resistance,” writes Richard Rohr. “It’s easier to believe doctrines—and obey arbitrary laws—than it is to undertake the hard work of being present.” And thus, the waiting really is the hardest part. And it’s hard because we have to take it on faith, as we take it to heart.
Now there are different kinds of waiting. There’s passive waiting and active waiting. Passive waiting is the businesswoman waiting in an airport terminal about to catch her connecting flight. She’s on Facebook or plays Candy Crush while she waits to board. Active waiting, on the other hand, is the woman standing at baggage claim, anticipating the moment she gets to embrace her husband for the first time since his deployment six months ago. Her only focus is on reuniting with her beloved. There’s a big difference between waiting for Christmas and waiting for Christ.
Last spring, my cousin passively sat in her doctor’s office waiting for her routine check up. As she sat there, reading out of date magazine, she stared at a young teenage girl expecting her first child.
Other than setting the appointment and not judging the young girl unfairly, Megan didn’t have to do much more than wait for the doctor. It wasn’t until she went in and learned that she too is pregnant, with twins, that she began actively waiting. And celebrating and panicking too I’m sure.
With each new day, Megan awakes full of anticipation and expectation. With two sets of feet kicking her from within, she has no other choice but to be totally present; living every moment. And because she doesn’t know when her babies will actually come, her focus is right where it ought to be; waiting for her two daughters and preparing her life for something she has no control over. Our waiting for the coming Christ is no different. We must always prepare each day by remaining present and active in our faith.
Three times Jesus states, “to keep alert, stay awake!” He calls us to be alive, fully and faithfully, as if he’s here, right now among us. We don’t want to be caught off guard…or miss it completely.
"Only in the present, can you savor the aroma, taste the sweetness, and appreciate the delicacy. If you are dwelling on the past, or worrying about the future, you will completely miss the experience of enjoying the cup of tea. Instead you will look down at the cup, and the tea will be gone.”
“Beware, stay awake!” There is no time to drift off in the waiting room, or sit around for our boarding number to be called. Rather we ought to be more like a waiter who is continually busy serving others that we have no time to sit down and count tips.
Advent is a time of active waiting, a time to stay awake and alert, living faithfully… not because Christmas is just around the corner and you want Santa to notice…but because Christ has already come, died and has been raised, and you want the world to know it. We are called to live in such a way that the world will see how God wants to lavish us with abundant love, so that, one day, we will all become like Jesus.
In his first letter, John the Apostle writes, 'All of us who look forward to his Coming stay ready – with the glistening purity of Jesus' life as a model for our own' (1 John 3:2-3). By this we will not only be prepared to live in the promised realm of God when it comes, but we also get to experience what life in that realm is like today.
Our Advent wait should always draw us nearer to Christ; always expecting and anticipating his presence in and among us. By living in such a way, in a way that we can see Christ in the face of every person we come in contact with, allows us to experience and celebrate the joy of God’s divine love as if every day is Christmas.
Bartlett, David L., Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol 1. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008.
Gumbel, Nicky. Bible in a Year devotional. December 2, 2017.
Rohr, Richard. Yes, And...Daily Meditations. Franciscan Media, 2013