Advent (Learning to Wait)

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
        so that the mountains would quake at your presence–
as when fire kindles brushwood
        and the fire causes water to boil–
to make your name known to your adversaries,
        so that the nations might tremble at your presence!
When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
Is. 64: 1-3.

In our world today, most of us have concluded that the problem with instant gratification is….it takes too long.  We aren’t accustomed to waiting:  for the economy to recover, for our children to figure out how to behave, for a new car, or for God to fix things.  The Psalm for today reflects exactly that kind of impatience.  The reading perfectly explores our Advent expectations, as we ask God, “Where, exactly, have you been?  Have you even noticed what’s going on down here?”

Many of the Advent readings address exactly this deep longing within the Jewish people, as they waited for someone to lead them out of slavery in Egypt, as they bore the shame of the Exile, and as they waited for God to redeem this world that just wasn’t working.  They had waited for thousands and thousands of years and they knew that something had to change.

The season of Advent centers on precisely this deep, overwhelming conviction that something must change, and only God can make a difference in this situation. This notion leads us to the second Advent impulse:  our need to prepare ourselves for this coming change.  Thus, we sometimes refer to Advent as “the little Lent.”

We listen to John the Baptist calling us to “make straight the path of the Lord.”  John warns us that we aren’t ready for God’s arrival into our lives, that we cannot begin to understand the radical difference Jesus will make in the world.  The Baptist cautioned the first century Palestinians that only repentance would prepare them for the cataclysmic difference that Jesus would make.  Only that repentance would prepare them for the truth of Christ.  He is still warning us of that today.

Rowan Williams once said, “During Advent, we try to get ourselves a bit more  used to the truth – the truth about ourselves, which is not always very  encouraging, but the truth about God above all which is always  encouraging. The One who comes will come with a great challenge. It will  be like fire on the earth as the Bible says. And yet the One who comes  is coming in love. He’s coming to set us free. And that’s something well  worth waiting for.”

I wish you a very holy season of Advent.  Shabbat shalom,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2011 James R. Dennis

6 responses to “Advent (Learning to Wait)

  1. Agreed. There is no question that our culture poisons us against the whole spirit of Advent. Recently saw an internet ad for the “newest” cell phones” that make fun of people whose messages take twelve extra seconds to down load. A whole twelve seconds. And in the middle of moving forward we have lost the future. No one plans to meet for dinner. They all show up and fire off text messages and decide on the spur of the moment where to gather. Looking forward to dinner with friends next week is almost unheard of these days. And we have lost the past. How many text messages do we delete? How many hand written letters do we throw away? Advent is a time of active waiting, a skill we are shedding to our own detriment.

    • I think that’s right, Brother. “In the middle of moving forward, we have lost the future.” A powerful message.

      Br. James

  2. I woke up this morning thinking about some of what we learn from John the Baptist and then found him in your post, which I read soon after. Having been through much change in the past year I know there is still more for us if we are to get closer to where are going and yes, we are still unprepared. But perhaps a little more so, thanks to your post.

    • Peter,

      You’re far to kind. I think you’re right; the Advent message is that we are always unprepared for God’s entry into the world, and particularly into our lives.


  3. Thank you! This has me thinking about waiting for Him versus deciding things have to change now and that I need to be in charge of that. Your post blessed me and will help me wait and see what He will yet do. 🙂

    • Debbie,

      The challenge of when to wait for God to act as opposed to when we God acts through us is always a difficult one, one I struggle with myself. I wish you great peace as we both move through our discernment.

      Br. James

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