(The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday, December 7, 2019)
Eat. Read. Pray. Fly out the door. School mornings this is the routine in our home.
A recent reading was about waiting. Cereal went into empty stomachs. I closed the book and made a comment about slowness. The children’s mother said, “But remember, with God a day is like a thousand years.” What seems slow may actually be lightning speed. And the kids were gone.
Later, I hung a wreath on our home’s front door. An Advent wreath, Advent being that annual reminder of waiting. Tomorrow is the second Advent Sunday of four leading to Christmas.
Of course, there’s waiting, and then there’s waiting. Anyone who has a pulse knows this. A football team in a small league can wait 20 years for a championship. Their opponents, 29 years. You know what I mean. We’re all waiting for something. But Advent’s wait is in a different league.
So now, even as a broader culture, we pull out the seasonal lights and decorations and trees. We play the music. We prepare gifts. We renew focus on loving our neighbour, which means, hopefully, first getting to know our neighbour. They’re centuries-old practices, these Advent traditions that are rooted in deep mystery and history.
The very earth even seems to wait, if not groan, in its anticipation. This is today’s hard news even as it’s today’s Advent news. Yes, Advent, if you really want a clear picture, is like waiting for marriage, the union and mystery of it.
I was at the Aga Khan Museum when I was recently reminded of this. There, down the highway in Toronto, on this particular evening a writer stood at a podium and expressed herself along these lines. She read for the 2019 Mitchell Prize, a prize given to Canadian writers who wrestle with faith. And doubt. She was runner-up and won $5,000.
“Sometimes I feel like I have been engaged for many years, but have never met my groom,” she read. It was a thoughtful piece – “Long Engagement” – by Liz Harmer. A Hamiltonian and former professor at Redeemer University College, she’s now a rising writer living in California. I found her words trustworthy. And piercing.
The groom, you may know, is Christ. And it’s this wait – this eternal longing of the human heart – that’s reflected during Advent.
My own wait for marriage, by the way, took me on many long walks along railway tracks through open fields. I walked in darkness and cold as much as anything. It was 15 years after my dating life began (that is the dates I had, and the dates I wished I could have had) when I finally met my beloved. The hard, rocky field of my life was plowed and re-plowed and plowed again during those years.
How much more, then, this wait for this other-worldly marriage? Will we wait to tomorrow? Monday? How many Mondays? Fifteen thousand? No, waiting is not easy. It makes you dependent when you want to be strong. Vulnerable when you want to prevail. How much more, then, in our culture, of independence? And speed. Our time of fast food. This age of now.
Which is to say that there’s something deeply human about waiting, even as there’s something deeply divine about appearing. Which is to say, also, that being awakened to this truth can happen any time, not just during Advent, and not just in some Adventy sort of place of worship, but in the quietness of, say, your own room, or in the park with the dog, or maybe even in Canadian Tire or, sure, while reading the paper.
Because God comes to us where we are, not where we think we should be. He comes as a surprise. This, if nothing else, is what the Christmas narrative is all about.
Of course, it’s easy to make too much of a long wait, even as it’s easy to dismiss it as futile or just imaginative thinking. But isn’t life itself a wait? And while we wait, we live. Very much. Very deeply. We do this when we remember previous times of waiting for this or that, and how, in fact, it was necessary. Helpful.
Yes, we wait even as we remember. There is no other way. At least not that’s any good.