Advent: The Practice of Waiting

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Advent is a time of waiting. And we’re not so good at waiting, are we?

I doubt waiting has ever been easy, but it seems especially difficult in our world of fast food, Amazon prime, instant downloads, and text messages. We are conditioned to want immediate action, responses, and results.

But God isn’t like that. God takes a long view.

During Advent we prepare to welcome Jesus. We celebrate his first coming in the form of a baby so many years ago. This long-awaited Messiah did not arrive when the Jews expected him but when the Father sent him.

The season of Advent gives us the chance to practice waiting; to be mindful of the seasons of life; to prepare to celebrate the glorious birth of the Incarnate God.

But today Advent is often shoved aside. Even before Halloween, big box stores stuff shelves with Christmas decorations, family members request gift ideas, and Christmas tunes tinkle over the radio. Some talk about the War on Christmas, but others have recognized a War on Advent.

To prepare and to wait, though, is a valuable precursor to celebrating and rejoicing. Without fasting, feasting may become gluttony. As we fall prey to never-ending celebration, we lose some of the joy and awe that comes when there is a marked change from preparation and waiting to arrival and celebration. The Lord has made us to experience both of these: both joy and sorrow, both feasting and fasting, both praise and lament. To skip the one dulls the other.

Our wait to celebrate Christmas, to rejoice at the birth of our Lord Jesus, is not an endless wait. Indeed we know each year on December 25 we will celebrate and rejoice, and our joy will be marked as the fulfillment of the waiting period.

Yet, Advent is not merely a time to wait and to prepare to greet Jesus the baby. It is also a preparation and a waiting period for Jesus’ return. And the timing of this coming is uncertain. Advent reminds us each year that this earth is not our eternal home. Indeed Christ will return and usher in the new heavens and the new earth and we will rejoice with great gladness then. And yet we wait. This wait is for an event completely out of our control, so we must trust God for it.

During Advent 2009, I was “great with child.” In fact, when we introduced our newborn daughter to our toddler son in early January, he mistook her for the baby Jesus! Pregnancy reminds me of Advent. We wait and wait for our little ones to be born, but we do not know the time or day of his or her arrival. Yet we do know that it will come. Sometimes we wait with eager anticipation; other times we wait with heavy burdens. Sometimes waiting is painful, or boring, or feels never-ending. Not only did I resonate in some capacity with Mary that Christmas, but I also recognized my need to wait with patience and with trust.

Recently, Pastor Alf preached on the parable of the ten bridesmaids. One distinction he made between the group of bridesmaids with extra oil and those without was that the group with extra oil was prepared for the groom’s delay. What a fitting way to describe Advent. It’s a time to prepare for the groom’s delay. Let us practice waiting on Jesus this season with anticipation, with patience, and with trust. He is coming.

About the Author

Anna Moseley Gissing is a recent transplant to Bethlehem who researches, writes, and speaks about family, faith, and culture. She currently serves as Associate for Engagement with InterVarsity’s Women in the Academy and Professions and as a writing instructor for Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Anna is married to Jeff (Director of Discipleship) and is mother to a first-grade son and a preschool daughter.