With the lighting of yet another candle on yet another Advent wreath a new church year is launched, and we enter once more the season of waiting as we prepare to claim again the Christmas Truth greater than any of the traditions it inspires: the mystical longing of the creature for the creator – the finite for the infinite – the human for the divine.
It is a longing that transcends culture, religion, language and custom – a longing that is represented for us as Christians in the baby in the manger – the sudden, amazing, and incomprehensible gift of grace: a God who loved us enough to become one of us. Yes, we manifest the wonder of Christmas in the gifts given, the meals shared, the gathering of family and loved ones.
But the greater wonder is that the God who is love incarnate came down at Christmas to be among us as one of us: to show us how to share that love with a world in desperate need of it – to a world yearning for the “peace on earth, good will among all people” the angels proclaimed.
And so we wait. And as we wait, I’m remembering many, many Advents ago our colleague Liz Habecker describing how “waiting” during Advent is different than any of the other kinds of “waiting” we do — waiting for a bus, for example. Waiting for a bus is both boring and anxiety-producing. Will it be on time? Will I make my connection? Am I even waiting at the right bus stop? What if I looked at the schedule wrong? Where is that bus, anyway? That’s waiting in anxiety.
Advent waiting is more like being in the concert hall or theater, waiting for the curtain to rise. We know something wonderful is about to happen and everyone else is waiting with the same expectation. We know what we’re waiting for — we’ve bought the tickets and looked over the program — but the experience is yet to happen: and so we wait — expectantly. We wait in the tension of both knowing and NOT knowing — open to the experience about to unfold that is somehow different every time. We wait in anticipation rather than anxiety.
And so another Advent begins.
We light that first candle, and we wait. We wait in both trust and tension as we pray the familiar prayers, read the familiar lessons, and sing the familiar hymns. And yet for all the comfort of the familiarity of those beloved prayers, hymns, and lessons there can be no escaping the reality that this year … this moment that Canon Melissa described in her recent Angelus article as the “current normal” … is different.
We cannot ignore that we wait in the shadow of a pandemic that may be loosening its grip but still holds us and those we love in a kind of ongoing limbo of vulnerability. We cannot hide from the fact that our nation is increasingly polarized, our democracy is inarguably under threat, that liberty and justice for all remains a pledge we make rather than a reality we live -- and that over it all looms the existential challenge of the climate crisis that threatens this fragile Earth, our island home.
And so this Advent I take great comfort in these words from our friend, author Diana Butler Bass, who writes:
Advent recognizes a profound spiritual truth:
that we need not fear the dark.
Instead, wait there.
Under that blue cope of heaven,
alert for the signs of dawn.
For you cannot rush the night.
But you can light some candles.
Sing some songs.
We cannot rush the night. But we can light some candles – and this year we can light those candles in person, rather than on Zoom. We can sing some songs – and this year we may have to sing them into our masks, but at least we get to sing them together. And we can recite poetry and say our prayers – sharing and offering words of inspiration and aspiration as we wait expectantly for the coming of the one who loved us enough to become one of us in order to show us how to love one another.
And so my prayer for all of us in this time of holy waiting is that we will be given the grace to wait in expectation rather than anxiety – and that our work and our worship will be outward and visible signs of hope, peace, joy, and love to our beautiful and broken world … the Advent and always.