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.
Advent is uncharacteristically short this year; only three Sundays, with the forth being Christmas Eve. That means there are only 21 days left to get everything done. I haven’t even begun to scramble through the malls or surf Amazon to find that perfect gift to max out my credit card. It’s not like I haven’t had ample warning. The commercialization of Christmas has been well underway long before Halloween. And I swear Hallmark has been playing an endless loop of Christmas movies since last December.
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.
While looking at a cup of tea, a Buddhist priest said, “You must be completely awake, in the present to enjoy the tea. Only in the awareness of the present, can your hands feel the pleasant warmth of the cup.
"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
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”