Impatience, thy name was Dr. Peacock.
When I was growing up, my father, a busy and successful surgeon, did not like to wait. He would not take us anywhere he anticipated crowds or lines. He would never go to a restaurant without a reservation. When we went to the movies, we went at odd times, arriving late, sitting in the back and leaving early. Native Washingtonians, we never visited the White House or the Washington Monument. We never went to the Cherry Blossom Festival or the lighting of the National Christmas Tree.
.“Too many tourists,” my dad would say. “Too much God damned trouble to wait in those god forsaken lines.”
No time to be patient, beloved, no time to be patient.
Now most us, including myself, much like my dad, count waiting as a colossal waste of time. And via the bazillion apps on our iPhones, iPads, and MACs, we need only navigate the net to have an instant Christmas.
Point, click and shop till you drop.
UPS and Federal Express or a guy on a Segue or an Amazon.dot.com drone will deliver to your doorstop a complete Christmas, from soup to nuts: the tree, the trimmings, the trappings, the presents and all the wrappings. Cyber-Monday, Cyber-Everyday eliminates the wait and takes us far from the maddening crowds.
Awesome Sauce! Right? Convenient for lives and calendars crammed with business appointments, committee meetings, carpools, school concerts, errands and chores. This is something close to a f*ing miracle! Successful people know that time is money — more precious than money.
Waiting is for chumps, for the clueless, for losers.
Waiting is for crazy people, waiting on the end of the world – with a specific date and time in mind for Jesus to return: survivalists stockpiling food, water, and toilet paper. Only wacky Millennialists (No, not Millennials, Millennialists!) wait on the impossible. Only wacky people wait on the mountain top for the space ship to come pick them up, beam them aboard, and fly them off to who knows where. Waiting on doomsday. Waiting for the end to come.
Two thousand years ago, the people of the church of St. Paul’s in Rome were busy waiting. They were keeping Advent, getting ready for something like a Christmas. Waiting, not for Santa, but for the Son of Man to return. He would come in glory and majesty, riding on the clouds in the company of angels. (Eat your heart out, Rudolph!)
Jesus promised he would be back. He said he would be back. So they kept vigil and they waited and they watched the skies and they yearned and they longed and they pined.
But no one came.
Be patient, beloved, be patient.
Now, patience is a virtue and sometimes the wait is worthwhile. Sometimes hanging in there is indeed worth it. After all, what is grape juice compared to a fine wine? What are Cliff Notes compared to the plot twists of your favorite book? What is a cheap and tawdry affair compared to a life long love?
Waiting cultivates desire, illuminates our need and heightens our expectations. And in the end, waiting sharpens our pain, as well as, our joy.
The people of Saint Paul’s in Rome were not just idly waiting. They weren’t just biding their time for something better to come along. They were waiting for a taste of heaven. They were waiting on eternity.
Something like a Christmas came and something like a Christmas went, year after year, generation after generation. And the folks at Saint Paul’s began to feel a little silly, a little self-conscious. And these folks, they grew plain sick and tired of waiting. And Christians everywhere, it seemed, lost the will to wait.
When Jesus did not come riding in on the clouds, like a shining knight on a white horse, as he was long expected to, we just gave up on waiting.
It’s naïve, a childish thing, beyond belief.
So instead, we now wait just four weeks for the baby in the manger.
We wait just four weeks for the Jesus who has already come.
And yet, anyone who has been through the nine months of pregnancy, or lived with someone who has, knows that birthing a baby is much more than a waiting game.
Now many a woman has wished for an Instagram/Polaroid pregnancy but it just doesn’t work that way. At first, there is the anxiety. Is the stick pink or blue? Is that a plus or minus sign? Once you know for sure, the room begins to spin and you regularly lose your lunch. And while you struggle to keep down saltines, this new little life feeds on you body and soul. You grow large and full of life, as does your heart grow and groan with love and angst. And by nine months’ end you feel a little bit like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”
No part of you, no crevice of your womb is left unfilled. Over a trinity of trimesters, expectation heightens. And all those who keep watch and wait hover around you. “When is it coming? When are you due?” Some even touch and grab onto your belly as if it were their very own. (Please, always ask first!)
Who is this little one coming, who has turned you inside out?
Who is this little one coming, who will turn the world upside down?
“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of its roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.”
“He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth…”
“The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion, and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.” — Isaiah 11:1-10
Just like the people, two millennia ago, we are waiting on this little scrap of eternity, a little taste of heaven.
How do we tread this waiting-way? Well, here at Emmanuel, we have a little home grown devotional, Waiting Rooms: Poetry, Scripture & Icons for Advent. I am also leading a conversational class, God of the Cosmos & God in the Cradle on the four Sunday mornings of Advent at 9:15 AM between the services. Cocktails, Mocktails & Carols, Saturday December 7th, 7:00 – 9:00 PM joyfully previews the birth of the child. And Contemplative Christmas: A Taize Service of Evening Prayer, December 15th at 6:00 PM quietly anticipates the light of the coming Christ.
In this pregnant season of Advent, let us pray, that the Spirit breathe life into our weary souls; that Christ’s light penetrate these dark days of December.
And let us pray, beloved, that with patience, once again,
Christ be born — flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone into this broken, beat up, and wonderful world.
Come, Lord Jesus, come.
“God keeps no one waiting unless it is good for them.” Oswald Chambers