Remember when you were a child, how little understanding you had of how things happened, if they would happen or when they would happen? When you were waiting for something you wanted, like Christmas for example, excited anticipation fused with a vague sense of time to make waiting a consuming reality: When will it be? How long is that? Is that soon? As a child, you get used to waiting. I recall thinking that when I was an adult, I would have the knowledge and power to make things happen or at least to understand when things would happen. I would no longer have to wait; I would be in control.
What I came to realize as an adult is that the power I thought I would acquire when I grew up, and in many ways did acquire, is either a fantasy or a false power. Things, let alone people, do not do what you want them to do or jump at your command, as in childhood you hoped they would.
When I was a child, I viewed the power of my parents as rock solid, and probably never-ending; but as they are now in their late 80s, I see that like the rest of us, they are just two people whose power was fleeting—over me, but even over themselves. None of us have real power, not power that will last; what we have is a simulacrum that will fade, as will our strength of mind and body.
How does our fading, limited power connect to the waiting of Advent? Waiting is often experienced as a lack of control or power. As I have aged, though, waiting seems like a luxury that the rush of busyness denies me. Time moves so quickly and the joy of anticipation is too costly. As adults we are caught up in what must be done now, what needs to happen now and the sense that we have no time. We cannot wait for anything, let alone God.
Time destroys all human power and it is in the waiting for God that we grasp true power. This is the power, Isaiah says, that “will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense.” But what God’s power brings is salvation. Once God’s power arrives, Isaiah says, “the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.”
When John the Baptist’s disciples were seeking a sign of Jesus’ messiahship, Jesus did not list for them his virginal conception or his Davidic lineage. He spoke of deeds that indicated that God’s power had broken in to our world in a new way. He instructed John’s disciples, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” Isaiah’s prophecies, awaited for so long, were coming to fulfilment.
For us now, awaiting Jesus’ adventus yearly and finally, Jesus’ brother James instructs us: “Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.”
It would be wise for us in our daily lives to reconsider the role of anticipation and waiting, of letting our powers be exchanged for those of God, who will take our weaknesses and in the fullness of time make us whole again.
This is not an argument for indifference, ennui, idleness or the meaninglessness of life; this is an argument for the sheer joy of living life in anticipation of all the good things that God has in store for us and using our weaknesses, strengths, gifts and love to work on preparing ourselves for the arrival of the King. Waiting in joyful anticipation is a luxury that we can all afford.
In Isaiah’s vision, the exiles, those people who most often spend their time in waiting, “shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” Wait for it, like a child at the window anticipating Christmas.