Right now, I feel like there should be alerts sounding on the radio and TV like there are before a big storm comes. Brace yourselves, everyone, here it comes: The traffic, the lines, the lights, the invites, the ads, the music, the mail, the hurry, the worry, the…Christmas season.
I want that kind of warning because despite my best efforts to prepare for the celebration of Christ’s coming, all the busy-ness of this season can so easily bury my heart’s desire and leave me shoveling out until after the New Year.
Advent begins Sunday. In the Christian liturgical tradition this is the season not of busy-ness, but of waiting. I find this interesting on two fronts:
First, it’s fascinating to me that our world bustles about more hurriedly than ever during the very season the church historically set apart to wait in anticipation. Christmas sales now start weeks before Thanksgiving. Even to many of the faithful, “preparing for Christmas” means food and presents more than preparing our souls. It was sobering to me to learn that in the 5th and 6th century, many Christians were encouraged to fast multiple days a week through the month of December to prepare themselves for the observance of Christmas as well as the second coming of Christ.
Second, it’s remarkable to me that our church fathers and mothers felt it was essential that followers of Jesus set aside four weeks each year to wait in preparation of the coming of Christ. I mean, this is built into the rhythm of the church’s year.
Why would they have done this?
Bishop Robert Barron once compared Advent to the 1998 German film Run Lola Run. In the film, Lola needs to come up with an exorbitant amount of money in an impossibly short amount of time or the man she loves will die. I’ve seen the movie and it’s intense. Throughout the movie, Lola’s running. She simply doesn’t have time to break. But in a poignant moment of desperation, she slows to a jog and then stops completely. As the clock ticks, she looks up to the sky and says, “Ich warte. Ich warte.” “I’m waiting. I’m waiting.”
We don’t get any sense in the film that Lola is a religious person, but in this moment, she seems to have reached the end of herself, she’s done all she can, run as far as she can, tried to figure it out, and it’s not enough.
She’s not enough.
Looking around at the world, looking around at your own individual life, can’t you feel something of this sentiment?
Perhaps in a relationship where restoration still seems impossible, a physical ailment that won’t heal, an unrelenting temptation, an area of sin that you’ve tried and tried to give up, bad news that keeps coming.
Or on a larger scale: racial tension, prejudice, greed, gender confusion, sexual addiction, sex trafficking, violence, terrorism, extreme poverty, injustice, corruption, apathy.
The problems are so big, and our best efforts make a difference to be sure, but though we make progress in one area, another overwhelming problem arises in another. We’ve run, we’ve tried, we’ve exhausted ourselves, and still it’s not enough. We’re not enough, individually or collectively, to solve all the mess that surrounds us.
I think this is a window into why the church fathers and mothers devoted this time to waiting. The year of our best efforts is almost done. And look: the light grows dim, the days grow short, the nights settle in long and cold. We have not turned the tide.
Advent invites us to, like Lola, admit our helplessness, stop our striving, look up to God, and say now with hope, “I wait. I wait.”
Question: In what practical ways might you practice “I wait” into your life in this season?