- Brad Nelson
Advent is a season I’ve struggled to understand. I’m told it’s a season of anticipation. The Latin word adventus, from which we get the word advent, means coming or arrival. In other words, advent is the time when our anticipation bursts into joy because whatever it is we’ve been waiting for has finally arrived. But it seems to me that in order to appreciate the arrival, one must first come to terms with the waiting.
What are you waiting for?
That’s the advent question each of us needs to wrestle with in order to appreciate what we see when we look at the manger.
And before I can plumb the depths of my own soul, a hundred images of waiting flash through my mind.
The first image is of a nursery. A new crib stands in the corner, a changing table and a rocker sit across from it. The room is spotless and quiet. There is a quality of peace and sacredness to the room, such that whenever people are in it they speak in whispers, though there’s no need to. A faint odor is detectable in the air, but it’s not the odor of a diaper that’s been left in the bin overnight. It’s the odor or emptiness.
They’re waiting on a baby.
They’ve been trying to get pregnant for years. They crave nothing more than to have a child of their own, and they’ve tried and they’ve tried and they’ve tried. Nothing. And the window of opportunity is shrinking by the day. To see the room is more than they can bear, so it sits empty. They’re waiting on a baby.
I think of a man sitting at his desk. Actually, to say he sits at his desk would be putting it generously. He’s slumped in his chair staring into the computer screen. It’s been months since a new job’s come in. He’s got a little work to do, but he knows it’ll only take him the better part of an hour. No. Today his work is the same as it was yesterday and the day before that and the day before that and the day before that. His work is to sit here watching the email come in and waiting for the phone to ring. And his companion as he does this hour after mind-numbing hour is the anxiety he feels over the bills that are piling up and the savings account that’s leaking away. So he sits there, clicking on his mouse in a state of dazed paralysis. He’s waiting on a job.
Or I think of a woman who—about a month ago—went to the doctor because her arm had been tingling. It didn’t bother her much at first but it had grown more persistent as the days went by. The doctor ordered some tests, and the tests revealed a mass. She’s not exactly young, but then she’s not exactly old either. And everyday since the biopsy she’s been moving from one task to the next trying to stay as busy as she possibly can because when she does stop, the thought of those test results leaves her short of breath. So she keeps moving. She keeps distracted. But the whole time she’s moving what she’s really doing it waiting. She’s waiting on test results.
I suspect, if we spent more than a few minutes reflecting on the inner workings of our hearts and minds, each of us could name some way in which we’re waiting.
Waiting to meet the right person.
Waiting for a sense of purpose or direction.
Waiting to turn the corner financially.
But I also know many of us would struggle to articulate what we’re waiting for because life’s been relatively peaceful lately. Instead of a season of longing, you’ve found yourself in a season of God’s blessing and favor. You don’t feel like you’re waiting on anything, and the whole concept of advent is hard to relate to.
In 1943, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Advent can only be celebrated by those whose souls give them no peace.” Sounds elitist if you ask me. Only those of us who’ve “really lived,” and who know a little bit about suffering are in on this beautiful thing called advent. Don’t be misled. There is truth in Bonhoeffer’s words, but don’t be deceived into thinking that just because you can’t identify what you’re waiting on that advent somehow isn’t for you.
Maybe your waiting is different.
For you, maybe advent is about about waiting for God to show up. Maybe advent is about God waiting for you to show up.
What if all your wondering about why God has blessed you while the world around you struggles is God’s way of preparing your heart for advent? What if God is pleased to come again, to arrive in our world through some act of compassion, generosity or grace you can offer precisely because of the season of blessing and favor you’re experiencing?
What if the fact that you can’t find some waiting of your own is simply God’s invitation for you to go find someone else’s and make it your own?
If so, may you be filled with advent anticipation as you watch and listen for the waiting of others. And may you know the joy of God’s arrival among us as you enter into someone else’s waiting.