Advent is a time of waiting. For Christians, it’s a
time of waiting for the arrival of the Christ child.
For others, Advent is a time of waiting for a
hoped-for future, waiting for the time of bleakness
to pass and for new joy to arrive.
We spend a lot of our time in life waiting. Waiting
for the arrival of our own newborn child. Waiting to
get that promotion at work. Waiting in line at the
checkout counter. Waiting for the light to change.
One person I know said, after returning from a
recent trip to Disneyland, he realized that an
amusement park is 10 percent thrills and 90 percent
walking and waiting. I think it is safe to say this
same equation works for most of life…including
Christmas. The greatest challenge then in life is to
enjoy the 90 percent.
Therein lies the challenge of Advent, right? Advent
charges into the temple of cynicism with a whip of
hope, overturning the tables of despair, driving out
the priests of that jaded cult, announcing there’s a
new day and it’s not like the one that came before
Advent whispers in the dark, “the not yet will be
worth it.” Advent brings us back to the reality of
how what we are waiting for has actually already
happened. We are looking for something that already
happened. It is both right now and not yet. To enjoy
the 90% requires us to actively deepen our awareness
of God’s presence every day; to pause in the
right-now to see evidence of the yet-to-come.
However, has it ever struck you as strange? Each
year as we begin this season of preparation before
the feast of Christmas, the gospel of the day speaks
of the end of the world. What does the final
judgment have to do with babies in mangers? And yet,
on this the first day of a new year, here we are
reading a story about folks being kidnapped at work
and someone breaking into your house and robbing
you. For those who may desire a deeper faith with
Jesus, this may not be the best place to start.
After all, there’s nothing sweet and cuddly about
that possibility. Nor does that sound like something
really worth waiting for.
Yet, there is, right? Because we know this gospel
lesson is an apocalyptic text and these texts were
often code for speaking about the world the people
at the time lived in; they were a way for people in
politically dangerous situations to speak the truth
about power—they were more commentary than
prediction. And, yes, they are disturbing texts, but
partly because they represent a genre we just aren’t
familiar with. Contained in this passage though are
themes for Advent the church has often elevated as
stepping stones that lead us to a deeper
relationship with Jesus.
Specifically the call to stay awake, to be alert,
and to be expectant while we wait for the return of
Christ—which is what Advent is all about. Yet how
can we be ready for something we don’t know is
coming? How can we be ready for the unexpected?
Well, honestly, we can’t.
Here’s the thing friends, like the house owner,
knowing what to look for as a way of avoiding being
robbed is only advantageous if we assume being
robbed is a bad thing. But perhaps having an
unknowing brain allows us to be taken unaware by the
grace of God, which is like a thief in the night.
Maybe it’s good news that Jesus has been staking the
joint and there will be a break-in. The promise of
Advent is that in the absence of knowing while we
wait, we get robbed. There was and is and will be a
break-in because God is not interested in our
loss-prevention programs but in saving us from
ourselves and saving us from our culture and saving
us even from our certainties about God’s story
Advent waiting is not intended to be a passive
practice. Rather, to make ourselves available to the
new graces before us, to allow God to rescue us once
more, and to bring about the kingdom of God Christ
ushered in once already, we must be proactive while
We are in a world pregnant with hope, and we live in
the expectation of the coming of God’s kingdom on
earth. As we wait, we also work, cry, pray, ache; we
are the midwives of another world.
The gospel lesson was written to a particular people
in a particular time that found themselves in
political and probably personal turmoil. The author
writes to remind them not to give up on caring for
on another; to remain vigilant in their efforts to
subvert the kingdom that preached power and wealth
over humility and peace; and it reminded them, and
it reminds us today, to keep Christ’s promises ahead
of us, assured that at some point the end will come,
and we will see Christ’s ultimate victory—and the
dream Isaiah offered up will be a reality among us.
While it’s good to look ahead to some hoped-for
event, there’s a danger in all this waiting, too.
The danger is that, in waiting, we become so
“future-focused” that we forget the gifts of the
present moment. We overlook what we have in
anticipation of receiving what we want. And then
there’s the danger of disappointment. When we pin
our hopes on a wish or a dream, we can be crushed if
it doesn’t come true. This day, that hour, we don’t
know. In fact, no one knows. But what we do know is
that Christ’s Second Coming has something to do with
our response to Christ’s first coming. It has
something to do with whether we are truly living
into our vocations as the Body of Christ in our
time. Advent is about anticipating the birth of
Christ. It’s about longing, desire, that which is
yet to come. That which isn’t here yet. And so we
wait, expectantly. Together. With an ache. Because
all is not right. Something is missing.
In the spirit of the season, Simon John Barlow, a
British Unitarian minister, urges us to wait for a
particular gift in a particular way: “Prepare the
way to welcome your inner-Christ child — the being
of love and light, the spark of holiness that lies
deep in us all. Seek the signs of hope and promise
in your life and the world around you — the stars
that point the way to the Light of God. Make your
way to the stable of peace and acceptance in the
secret depths of your heart.”
In this season of Advent, I wish you good waiting.
Waiting that allows your hearts to soar to a
longed-for future and your feet to stay planted in
the goodness and gladness of today. May this season
bring you joy in your present, in your presents, and
by and through your presence.
[Adam Quine, pastor First Presbyterian Church in