People Look East: Advent and Waiting Part 1

I come from a tradition in which waiting and anticipation are part of our worship calendar. As a Christian, I have entered the season of Advent – which literally means “coming” or “arriving.” This four-week season which culminates with the celebration of the birth of Jesus is a season in which many Christians prepare and wait – joyfully, expectantly – for the moment when God is Incarnate among humankind. But Advent isn’t our only season of waiting. Lent, the six weeks before Easter, are also a season of waiting. This is a different kind of waiting and watching – this is an introspective season, a season of repentance, of lament, and doing the hard work of taking a personal inventory.

Waiting, it seems, is an essential part of my Christian tradition.

I’m glad that I have a dedicated season for practicing waiting. I live and work in Silicon Valley where waiting is considered wasted time. There are apps for managing productivity, for skipping waiting in line and waiting for deposits to hit your bank account, and even waiting to catch a cab. There’s a hyper-active sense that waiting – on anything – is a mismanaged use of one’s precious time. Waiting is for the inefficient. Waiting is for the wasteful.

Surrounded by the hyper-productive, plugged-in, technophiles (which in and of themselves are not bad), I am glad that my religious tradition provides me seasons where I must practice waiting. I cannot skip ahead in the story and put baby Jesus in the manger, even though I already know the inevitable outcome. I cannot skip the Annunciation to Mary when the angel Gabriel spoke that God had chosen her to bear the Christ-child – and when she chose to accept. I cannot skip the moment when Joseph, who had every right to break off the engagement, chose instead to stay. The story invites me to wait, to be in the story – the good and the bad – and not skip ahead to the best parts.

The season of Advent invites me to delay my gratification for the sake of being with God, and with the whole Church. It invites me to slow down, to remember that Sabbath is holy and this first season of the liturgical calendar should be a time for reflection on the mystery and joy of God’s Incarnation. And, in our contemporary culture of excessive consumerism, Advent invites me to rest from truly wasteful uses of time, money and resources.

A popular Advent hymn, “People Look East,” reminds us that waiting is active – that we are to be preparing our hearts (and homes in this case) for God who will be born among us. That waiting isn’t wasted time, but active engagement.

People, Look East. The Time is near
Of the crowning of the year.
Make your house as you are able,
Trim the hearth and set the table.
People Look East and sing today:
Love the guest is on the way.

So people, look East! Let us wait – actively preparing our hearts, our minds – even our homes – for Love enfleshed to come and dwell with us.  Let us remember that there is value in waiting, in following the story as it unfolds and not skipping ahead.

Image “Advent” Copyright Tramani Sagrens. Used by permission under creative commons license

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