The Waiting & Work of Advent
First, a confession of sorts: patience is not my strongest virtue. I can’t stand waiting in long lines or sitting in traffic that only inches forward. I have little tolerance for processes that drag on with no apparent conclusion in sight, or with conversations that seem to never get to the point. I have a hard time settling in and slowing down; I much prefer purposeful action to being still. Impatience is often my vice.
So the attitude of Advent is challenging for me. Advent is all about settling in and settling down, quieting our lives to make room for the in-breaking of something extraordinary amid our all-too-ordinary lives. It’s about slowing our pace and our breathing so we can better pay attention to the small signs of wonder all around us. Advent demands that confounding combination of patience and waiting….waiting for the hark of heralding angels and the attention of the astonished shepherds, waiting for that shocking announcement to Mary to slowly take shape and finally be born into a world that so desperately needs Good News.
But Advent isn’t just about patiently awaiting the joy of the Incarnation at Christmas. It’s also about making room for God to show up in our world today in ways we can’t fully imagine. It’s about trusting in God’s ability to once again intervene and bring Good News to unsuspecting people and surprising places. It’s about having a bold enough faith to believe that all the hurt and insanity and injustice we see around us can be transformed by God into the healing and justice and peace we so deeply desire. It is actively building the image painted by Isaiah in the second chapter: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” All of this is also the wondrous work and waiting of Advent.
Do I really have to be so patient for a better and kinder world to emerge, for the moral arc of history to slowly bend toward justice? Or is it possible that impatience might actually have a redeeming role to play during Advent and beyond?
Theologian and priest Matthew Fox suggests there might be hope for even an impatient soul like me. He once said: “The Western prophets bring a kind of moral outrage, what I call a holy impatience, whereas the East brings serenity and an emphasis on patience. I think there’s a time for both, but I think we are in a time now of holy impatience.”
Holy impatience. Impatience that is not simply a vice to be reckoned with, but just might be a skill set to be cultivated….for the purpose of growing something sacred and good and beautiful in the world. Maybe it is the spark within us that moves us to be God’s partners in building a world where “they shall learn war no more”, where every person’s inherent dignity is respected and love overwhelms hate.
This Advent I’ll keep working on my patience, settling in to pay attention to all the ways God is showing up in my life and in the world. But I think I’ll hold on to a little of that familiar impatience, too, and do my best to give it holy purpose.
Blessings and peace,
Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister