Ready and Waiting

Psalm 122    Matthew 24:36-44

First Sunday of Advent    November 28, 2010

I don’t like waiting for anything.  In fact, in order to avoid waiting, I often do whatever I can to be sure that I don’t show up anywhere early.  The trouble with this, is that all too often I end up being late.  I end up being the one that other people are waiting for, which doesn’t feel good either.  I have a friend who would arrive at his destination a bit early and then drive around the block a few times until it was just the right time to present himself at the door.  Waiting is a tricky thing to get just right.  We all do it all of the time, and yet we still juggle and struggle with ourselves a bit as to how to do it well, whether we would rather err on the side of being too early or too late.  A part of this struggle is built into our culture and the way we deal with time.  I have a clock radio that sets itself automatically according to the atomic clock somewhere near Boulder, Colorado.  This means that I can know exactly what time it is at any given moment.  Supposedly this means that I can be right on time for whatever appointment I have.  I know that among the people gathered here this morning, some of you set your watches and clocks ahead by 5-10 minutes in order to ensure you are early or at least on time to your appointments.  It is interesting to me that there are cultures in which this concern about time does not exist.  There were eras in history when no one had a watch or a clock, when time was told by the movement of the sun.  When that was the case, people would agree to meet when the sun lit up the sky or after the sun reached its zenith, or during the full moon.  The sense of time was much more open and flexible, and because of this people spent more time waiting for one another than they do now.  But I am willing to venture that the quality of that waiting time was different then than it is now.  Nowadays, if we find ourselves waiting for someone, we may feel impatient.  We may think about all of the other things we could be doing if we didn’t have to wait for the other person.  Back when time was more fluid, I imagine that people used the waiting time in a different way.  I imagine that people were used to having spaces in their lives that were not chock-full of activity, when they could do handwork maybe, or sit and contemplate a dream they had, or talk with the person they were with, without resentment for “wasting time.”  I think it does something negative to us when we feel we have to fill up every waking moment with productive activity.  When we think we have to show some result for every waking moment of our lives, it creates an unrealistic pressure on us as individuals and as a society.  If, on the other hand, we are accustomed to having spaces in our lives that are not claimed by specific tasks or responsibilities, then that frees us up to imagine, to create, to enjoy our lives in unscripted ways.

Advent, which begins today, is a time of waiting.  It is a period of 4 weeks or so during which we know that Christmas is coming, and yet we can’t do anything to rush it.  We just have to prepare for it and wait as best we can.  There are a variety of ways we can choose to prepare, a variety of ways we can spend our waiting time.  The most obvious way, is to do all the physical things we have to do to get ready for Christmas.  We can shop and bake, we can wrap gifts and write cards.  We can get a tree and decorate it, we can hang lights up around our house to make it look festive. Our preparation for the coming of Christ, the coming of the child is different from our preparation for the holiday of Christmas.  There are different needs associated with this kind of getting ready, in that it is much more internal, more personal.  Often, our busyness throughout Advent takes us away from really making the preparations we need to make in our hearts.  The hectic nature of all we feel we have to get done can easily take us away from the contemplation of what we might be hoping for from the coming of the Christ into our hearts and lives this year.  How can we ensure that we are really ready for the Christ child when he comes?  How can we best prepare ourselves for this coming?

Each of us will have to prepare in our own way, obviously.  We each need to look deeply into our own hearts to determine what it is we most need to shift or change in our lives so that we will be ready when the Christ comes.  We need to ask ourselves, what do I most need to do to create the space in my life for this coming of the Christ?  What is in the way this year?  What is in the way today?  What is in the way in this moment?  It is also important for us each to look for the broken places in our lives, the places where we are hurting and in need of some healing.  The Christ Child brings with him healing.  He brings with him a new chance at life, as a new birth always offers new opportunities to everyone involved.  Advent, therefore, is not about prettying things up so that the surface looks good, it is about going deep.  It is about being honest with where we are, so that when the Child comes, we know what we most need and can be open in such a way that we might find the touch, the healing that would reach out to us and really make a difference in our lives.  In order for this to happen, we may need to take some time away from the hustle and bustle to think and pray.  We may need to find a great guide book to draw us through the season of Advent, to help us along the way with readings to inspire our thoughts and contemplation.  We may find it helpful to follow the Scripture readings suggested in the Advent Calendar prepared by Merry Waters and Tom Mousin.  We may find it meaningful to simply light a candle and spend some time in silence with the intention of creating space in our daily lives for God to enter and intervene.  

Waiting is not easy for any of us, and yet there are great ways to make use of the time we have ahead of us to really prepare ourselves, not only for Christmas the holiday, but for the Christ Child who is Emmanuel, God-with-us.

God of this moment and of all time, we are not always good at waiting for what we want.  We are not always happy about delaying gratification.  But we know that if we use this waiting time well and wisely, we will be all the more ready to greet your newborn child when he comes.  Help us to wait with patience.  Help us to prepare with careful attention to details.  Help us to look deeply into our hearts during this reflective time, and discover there our own deepest desires for healing and wholeness in You.  Amen.

"If you live the life you love, you will receive shelter and blessings. Sometimes the great famine of blessings in and around us derives from the fact that we are not living the life we love; rather, we are living the life that is expected of us. We have fallen out of rhythm with the secret signature and light of our own nature."   - John O'Donohue