Disciple: Advent: The Waiting Time
Toni Morrison was a prolific Nobel Prize-winning author, and among her collection of memorable works of fiction is a book called Jazz. In the prologue, the character speaks of love. She says, “But I can’t say that aloud; I can’t tell anyone that I have been waiting for this all my life and that being chosen to wait is the reason I can.”
Her story describes an ill-fated love affair, and yet these words can be transported to an expectant relationship with God. Suddenly the meaning shifts dramatically. The idea that “being chosen to wait is the reason I can” resonates lovingly in the season of Advent. It is, after all, a time set aside to ask God specifically to make and remake your heart.
We begin this liturgical year with the season of Advent as we always have, in a posture of waiting. It is no accident the first season of the year sends us into a time of quiet reflection. During these next few weeks, we prepare once again to celebrate the birth of Jesus and look forward to the coming of Christ. In a very short while, we will culminate this season by joyously revisiting the story of a young woman named Mary, who gave birth to the Prince of Peace and placed him in a manger. As we wait, we must prepare.
THE WORK OF WAITING
One of the great symbols of Advent is the lighting of candles. We light candles for hope, peace, love and joy. Those four words are wonderful guideposts during a period of waiting. As followers of the faith, we are filled with an exuberance for the coming holiday, but wait! There is work to be done first.
2020 has been a year in which the capacity to wait patiently has been challenged often. The word “wait” creates tremendous anxiety and, in some places, downright anger. In a typical year, it is difficult to sit quietly and be at peace with simple longing. It’s this time of year people are used to finding themselves suddenly hustling to find the perfect gifts—or at least an appropriate token—for the folks on our list. Many plan an array of holiday parties and family get-togethers. We tally up all of the projects we vowed to complete before year’s end. We’re used to having too much to do. Even church calendars brim with activity as we encourage our followers to slow down, to be quiet and to wait.
Some might argue that much of this year has been a time of waiting. People wait for the pandemic to go away. Many wait to return to in-person worship or to worship where singing and communion can take place without restriction. We mourn as we wait to be able to gather in large numbers for baptisms, first communions, confirmations, weddings or funerals. Yet God is calling us to embrace the waiting time and open our hearts to his love and the sense of hope only God can provide.
As people of hope, we acknowledge a pandemic will not last forever, and we will be released from sheltering and distancing. While we wait, God invites us to connect with church friends in ways both old and new. We look forward to the day we can turn away from Zoom and toward in-person encounters with family and friends. While we wait for that day to come, we can express gratitude for the fact we can still see our loved ones at all.
I thought of my mother the other day, who died more than 25 years ago. We used to laugh a lot about how dramatically the world had changed between the time her own mother died and I became a young adult. I look back to that time and know she would be mesmerized by all of the things you can do with today’s phone: watch news, video chat, listen to the radio, play games, pay bills, turn it into a remote control and yes, even use it to talk with someone. As we yearn for things to return to “normal,” we forget to pause and reflect on how societal changes have created marvelous ways for connection. As people of hope, we can only imagine how new inventions will enhance our quality of life over the next quarter-century.
In this waiting time, God calls us to sit still and find peace, even when so much in the world feels unsettled and anxiety is at an all-time high. In this year alone, we witnessed strained relationships between law enforcement and people of color. We watched persecutions and a global response from those who grieve. In some places, folks took to the streets with a collective cry for peace through equality and justice for all, while in others, we saw an inability of some to understand the impact of such deadly encounters on communities of Black and brown people.
Peace may feel elusive, but by following the ways of Christ, peace is possible. Peace is attainable if we, as Christian siblings, commit to loving our neighbors no matter how different we perceive them to be. Think of the hymn, “In Christ there is no east or west, in him no south or north, but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth.” Peace is achievable when there is a willingness to look at others with a sense of compassion and love instead of suspicion and judgement. Peace will be attained when everyone is moving in unison towards the beloved community with a shared eagerness for the promises of God. God offers peace to his weary people, and it is up to us to adopt that spirit. We should all want to know “that peace which surpasses all understanding.” As your level of peace rises and your sense of hope increases, begin to plan a way forward toward true justice and equality for all. You don’t have to do everything today, but every day you can do something and bring us all closer to the goal.
The Most Rev. Michael Curry speaks often of the greatest ideal in life: love. He often reminds us that Jesus says, “the greatest commandment is to ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. The second is to love your neighbor as yourself.’” As you light the candle of love this Advent, think of all the ways in which you show your love for God. Let your love shine so brightly it brings others closer to the creator. Your light may be your words, or it may be your actions. It does not matter as long as it is visible. Show your love by a willingness to extend to others the same grace given to you by almighty God.
During this season of Advent, find ways in which you fill your heart with joy. Even in the most stringent of times, there are things for which to be thankful. Maya Angelou told a great story about going to her vocal coach one day and declaring she was going crazy. Life had become a bit overwhelming, and she no longer felt she had the coping mechanism to contain it all. The coach told her to take out a yellow pad and write down all her blessings. Initially, she thought he did not understand her desperation until he began to tell her some of the things she should put on that paper. Blessings that she had paper, that she could hear him talking to her and had the eyesight to see her words. She went home, filled her legal pad and used one from that day on. While you wait, take time to write down your blessings on your favorite pad. Leave nothing out. May your heart overflow with joy as you contemplate all for which you are grateful.
In the midst of swirling pandemics in a tempestuous world, let us be reminded of God’s invitation to pause for Advent. In a secular year that feels very atypical, our new liturgical year remains normal because it is an annual occasion calling us to be still. This may just be the perfect year to give this season its proper due. Let us all allow God to make and remake the hearts of those who have been chosen to wait.
The Rev. Kathy Walker is the missioner for Black ministries at the Diocese of North Carolina.
Tags: North Carolina Disciple