Learning the Art of Waiting in Advent

By the Rev. Canon Susan Goff

Waiting is becoming a lost art.  As I sat at my computer to write this reflection, I had to wait at least 45 seconds for the  software to settle down and let me begin typing. In this age of instant communication, three quarters of a minute can feel like a long, frustrating waste of time.

Waiting in line at the bank or at  the supermarket has become so burdensome to many that they just don’t do it anymore, but instead do their business online. Many,  perhaps most, of us have forgotten how to wait patiently. The biblical witness is clear, however, that God is present and acts powerfully in the seemingly empty times of waiting. When we wait, God breaks through in unexpected ways to bless and renew us. As Isaiah wrote, “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk  and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31) 

Advent can re-teach us the disappearing art of waiting. During this holy season, the first season of the Church year, we wait for our annual celebration of the birth of Christ. We wait for Christ who acts in our midst every day. And we wait for Christ who will  come again. In Advent, a word that  derives from the Latin adventus  and means coming, we wait for  Christ in three tenses: past, present and future.

As we wait for the living.   Christ in each one of these senses,  we come to discover that faithful waiting is not empty. It is not a  hollow barrenness that is just  killing time until something better comes along. Our waiting, instead,  is pregnant, expectant, charged  and filled with blessings that will, in God’s time, be revealed.  Many symbols and customs  of Advent, when used at church and at home, can help us focus our  waiting and retrain us to find the holy in seemingly empty places.  They also help us keep the secular pressures of the holiday season  in balance by reminding us of the true reasons for our waiting. These  customs include opening the doors of an Advent Calendar, lighting  the candles of an Advent wreath  and creating an Advent chain that can be placed on the Christmas  tree when complete. Even the placement of Christmas crèche figures, one at a time, slowly across the whole of Advent, can help retrain us to wait patiently, hopefully, expectantly for the good gifts God is eager to give us.  

So we wait in Advent. So, perhaps, we learn again how to wait with eager longing. So we reclaim even those seemingly wasted 45 seconds as time that is filled with the promise of God.


From the Virginia Episcopalian, Nov., 2011

Leave a Comment