Jay Blogs – Waiting for the Here and Now

“They also serve who only stand and wait.”
John Milton

Do you remember what it was like to wait for Christmas as a kid? How it seemed like an eternity, as if the clock were actually moving backwards? My mom always used to buy us those chocolate Advent calendars made somewhere in Germany (Adventschokolade!), the ones with the candy shaped like a jingle bell or something, hidden behind the door with the countdown date toward Christmas? She would give them to us, not with any particular desire to inspire mindfulness of Advent, but so we wouldn’t wear her out by asking “How many days until Christmas?” for the ten bazillionth time.  In those days, Advent seemed to creep by, Christmas the mountain range that never got closer, no matter how far you walked.

Compare then to now, our adult Advent. The weeks leading up to Christmas fly over like the B-2s at an NFL game, don’t they?  Closing down school or your business for the year, parties, shopping, travel, delivering gifts to people, all conspire to kill time with alarming, loud rapidity. It seems like there’s never enough bandwidth to accomplish what needs to be done before Christmas comes careening by into the new year.

Advent means “coming,” and there are a couple ways I think children understand celebrating the coming of Christ in ways we largely miss as adults. First, children face the days leading up to Christmas with hope. Reflecting on it now, I believe the reason Christmas used to come so slowly for us as kids is that we were waiting for something marvelous, amazing, magical. Christmas Day would bring gifts, but also an opportunity to eat good food and great smells, surrounded by family and those we loved most in the world, some long gone, now a bittersweet ache. For a kid, these things brought ultimate security and comfort, regardless of whatever child-shaped worries we had (and, some of us really did have big worries– money, our parents’ stability, things a kid should never have to worry about).  We were living for hope, in anticipation of something truly wonderous, and so time seemed to stand deathly still.

As we age, there’s plenty to distract us from wonder: war in Israel and Ukraine, political and other types of infighting here, as well as fear and anxiety from our own individual concerns, to name but a few. Yet, the wonder doesn’t go away, lingering just beyond our consciousness, waiting for us to grasp it still. Wonder that the God of the Universe, He who hovered over the chaos of Creation and spoke it all into existence, He in whom all things hold together, who tells the planets to rotate around the stars and the galaxies to rotate around their hub every day, and so they do–that all this majesty and power became a zygote, floating in amniotic fluid, growing completely dependent on whatever a scared yet miraculously faithful teenage single girl could drum up to eat that day.

And, that incomprehensible moment in time, that He who was infinitely beyond description, the great I AM,  born among animal poop and stink, a hurricane in a thimble, had one culminating purpose- to free you from slavery to sin and death, from shame and guilt, from bondage to the enemy of your soul.

That same God who came never left. He lives among us every day, transforming us into different people, proclaiming His love for us, and giving us the capacity to love in ways we never thought possible. That same God not only came, not only lives among us now, but is still coming all the more, to make everything right. He’s coming to fix our broken, shattered lives and set everything right, to bring us that best of all Christmas Days– when He will bring the greatest gift, His eternal presence among us; when we’ll sit at the table together and tell stories of sad days that are no more; and, when we’ll be surrounded by all our family, those who went before and who will come behind, together forever.

The greatest hope we have in the chaos flailing around us is that, as Ann Voskamp says, “we were created by Love for love.” We have a nearly infinite capacity to love, because we are loved infinitely. And, nothing can stop the power of love; it’s stronger than death itself. This hope is ours, if we’ll just slow down long enough to realize it.

Which is the other thing kids do in celebrating the coming of Christ that we as adults miss: They actually wait for it. When you think about it, so much of our lives as kids are spent waiting– waiting to grow up, to become something more than we are. At the same time, kids know how to live in the moment of their waiting, to play, to be with family and each other.  Chances are some of your best memories of Christmas or of life are those “in-between times” playing as kids. Kids seem to always have time to wait and to live. It’s so strange how we become adults, get busy doing and accomplishing, and rarely have time for either.

The great ones in the Christmas story were those who knew how to wait and to hope. Like Jesus’ mother. It wasn’t who Mary was that made her great, or what she had achieved. What made Mary blessed was that she was waiting and available. She made herself accessible to God, not for some task, but for relationship, for being with. And, God brought forth salvation through her. Likewise, Simeon and Anna waited their whole lives for the coming Messiah, and thus were ready to prophesy when God spoke. Or the shepherds, who Luke tells us were “keeping watch,” waiting for the angel to tell them to come and see that all reality had been forever changed.

There’s something beautiful in waiting, and watching, and hoping. Those who will stop and take the time to do these things, to develop the heart of a child, waiting and living and loving and serving and hoping with breathless anticipation, are those who are truly blessed, who will truly see the Word made flesh at work.

Even if you’re not a morning person, just try something this Advent. Set your alarm for a half hour earlier than you normally awake. Go into your living room, or office, or that chair in your bedroom, or wherever it is you do your best thinking. And wait. Just open your heart to the Lord. You don’t have to open a book. You don’t have to come with your litany of requests. Just let the God of the Universe initiate the conversation. Even if He doesn’t, He will still come. Just sit still with Him, like you would an old friend around a cup of coffee or a campfire, or on a long road trip. Just enjoying making yourself available to be with.  See if these moments don’t allow you to begin to enter your day filled with hope in who God is, what He has done, and what He will do. See if waiting and watching and hoping doesn’t begin to change your heart in fundamentally-different ways, ways you want to change, as you increasingly make yourself available to Him.

Become your Father’s kid again, waiting for the morning light.

Jay Ferguson, Ph.D., Head of School at Grace Community School, writes regularly on his blog, JaysBlog.org.