As kids, we had Advent wreaths made of coat hangers, cedar greens and nubby candles my mother refused to toss as long as there was some light left in them.
Advent means “coming,” but it was about waiting. Sure, there was the waiting of the Jewish people for a Messiah. And the waiting in preparation for God to once again be born unto us.
But there was something else. As the candles dwindled with each lighting, and the cedar dried, we were nearing the end to our waiting.
We were getting closer, not just to the birth of Jesus, but to presents, visits by cousins, festive meals and a break from school.
We outgrew that, but along the way, we’ve also lost that sense of waiting and the slowness of time that accompanies it.
Now the Advent candles burning are a searing reminder that the clock is ticking. We have one less day to shop, wrap and bake.
Advent may be about waiting, but a fast-approaching Christmas leaves little time for it.
Now we live in a world of express lanes, instant messaging, same-day deliveries, and snap judgments. Our fast food is not just the speed with which it’s ready, but the pace with which it is consumed.
We need waiting, a deep intentional waiting: not the pause of thumbing through our phones in idle time, but a prayerful pulling back, allowing God to penetrate the force shield of busyness and distraction that surrounds us.
Waiting is a practice so important that the liturgical calendar devotes four weeks to it. The waiting of Advent is not just a pre-Christmas tradition, but training for a spiritual posture we need all year.
It is nothing new. Sarah had to wait 25 years for her promised son. The Israelites waited 40 years in the desert. Jacob, Joseph and Job all had to wait.
It was never passive waiting. It was an active surrender to God’s will in their lives and a formation of what that will would demand.
Whether lost and confused or certain of our next step, we need to learn to wait on God, to live in that tension between doing and waiting.
At 18 or at 80, we wait for a vision of who we are in the world, of who we are in God.
And as the Psalms attest, God does not disappoint.
“I waited patiently for the Lord; He turned to me and heard my cry.”