Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
—Collect for the First Sunday of Advent, Book of Common Prayer
It is Advent. I love this season. The pace of contemporary life exhausts me. The sheer amount of information that gets blasted at me in a single day is enough to send me to bed with a headache. I have to fight daily to slow myself down, to hear myself think, to hear God speak to my heart—which is why I welcome Advent with such gladness. It is a quiet season, a season of pondering the Mystery of incarnation, of preparing to receive Christ anew. It is a season of waiting.
Our waiting occurs at two levels: we are waiting for Christ to be born in history, and we are waiting for Christ to return at the end of history. The baby in the manger. Redemption and release and all things new. We look back at the people who walked in darkness, waiting for the light. We look forward to the fullness of that light, waiting for it to illuminate the darkness forever.
The root of the word Advent is the Latin veni. Come. In Advent we wait for Christ to come and “visit us in great humility.” We wait for Him to “come again in his glorious majesty.” But we also wait for Him to come “now in the time of this mortal life.” We wait for Him here, right where we are, in the midst of our daily, ordinary, blessed, and broken lives.
As a culture we do not wait well. Waiting is anathema to a consumer culture that demands more, faster, now. We are surrounded by messages that inculcate impatience in us, that habituate us to having what we want when we want it. Whole industries are built on the promise of eliminating the need to wait or on distracting us from the unendurability of waiting. And still the church carves out this blessed season. Still it invites us to silence the impatient clamor of the culture. Still it holds forth the offer of four weeks of waiting.
We tend to think of waiting as passive. As twiddling our thumbs. As a bored and boring passage of time to be gotten through as quickly as possible, or gotten rid of. As wasted.
But Advent waiting is anything but passive. It is active and attentive. It keeps its eyes wide open and its senses alert. Where is the Spirit of God hovering over the face of the deep? Where is He breathing life and hope? Where is the light shining in the darkness? A flicker here, a glimmer there—can you see it? Do you remember?
Advent waiting commemorates. It remembers. In Advent we remember the baby in the manger, the Word made flesh, the Light blazing quietly in the darkness, the God of the cosmos born of a woman. We remember the shepherds and the wise men. We remember no room in the inn.
There is still no room in the inn. The marketplace is crowded and loud. Our hearts are crowded and loud. Advent waiting makes room. It refuses to shut the door and shake its head and moan, no room, no room. It makes room. It prepares a place. It clears out clutter, carves out space, throws open the windows and the doors to welcome the King of glory.
Attention, remembrance, and preparation. These are the ingredients of waiting well. This Advent, let’s not rush through the waiting. Let’s sit with it awhile in stillness and silence. Let’s plumb its depths—and let it plumb ours—and see what comes to us. Or Who.