by Fr. Bob Pelton.
Wait for the Lord whose day is near. Wait for the Lord, keep watch, take heart.
These lines, an antiphon from our Advent morning prayer, have been sitting in my heart. This is what Advent is about—waiting.
In Advent, we are waiting for the coming of our Savior, and we are waiting to meet our Bridegroom. And not just us. In Advent, the whole Church is waiting for the Bridegroom.
As I was thinking about waiting, I suddenly remembered a moment when I had a revelation about it.
It was about twenty-five years ago when the seventh child of two of our friends was about to be born. They had invited me to be present at the birth. I had never had the opportunity to witness a birth, so of course I said yes.
Of course, the phone call came at about 7 o’clock in the morning! And not of course (I am a night owl), I was up like a flash and jumped into a car and drove to the hospital.
This hospital has a special birthing section that consists of two rooms, the waiting room and the actual birthing room.
So all three of us, husband, wife, and I, sat in the waiting room while people prepared the birthing room. The delivery was not imminent. Very not imminent!
After about an hour and a half or so, maybe two hours, they took the wife into the birthing room and got her prepared. Her husband and I continued to wait.
There were magazines around, but it didn’t seem appropriate to be reading one at such a time, and I hadn’t thought to bring my breviary. I had thought that "let’s go" meant "let’s go!"
As I was waiting there, I suddenly realized that I never wait. At a stop light maybe, but if I’m meeting someone and they are late, I do something else. I pick up the paper; I pick up a book. I do something. I don’t just wait.
Even in an airport, I don’t wait. I read something. I walk around. I eat something.
As I waited for the birth, I had a little revelation that the Lord might be asking me to learn something here. Wait. Wait.
So I waited in silence, without doing anything, and finally the wife began to go into serious labor. The husband and I went into the birthing room.
After more time, the baby finally appeared. I was just stunned. As I looked at it, I was completely stunned.
I said to myself, what did you think was coming? But, well to see a human being suddenly appear…
I’ve been pondering about waiting. Usually there is annoyance in waiting, as in a traffic jam, for example, and also some anxiety. Are they really going to come? Is she really going to come? Is he really going to come? Have they forgotten me?
I think this is true also when we’re waiting for the Lord. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves of the truth of our faith: that God will come. Perhaps we recite the Creed to ourselves, or we go through the catechism and explain to ourselves how no, no, no, of course the Lord hasn’t forgotten me.
But the thought is there. Is he really going to come? Is he really going to come to me? And then there’s the even worse thought, is he going to like me when he comes? Is he going to tell me all my sins?
So what is it that makes waiting possible—real waiting, Gospel waiting?
The answer is trust. Trust that the Lord really is our Savior, that he really has come to us, that he really will come to me. Trust that he lived for us and died for us and has risen for us, that he ascended for us out of love and that he will come again out of love.
Trust that he wants to come, that in fact he is on his way, and that everything we experience as our effort to live as Christians is really our reception of his grace, his love, preparing us for the great meeting.
He will come to me.
I think that it’s quite rare that we wait like this naturally. Even when two people are very much in love, waiting for the loved one often creates anxiety. Where is she? Where is he? Why hasn’t he come? Why is she always late? Am I in the right place?
We know that we cannot simply manufacture trust and beyond trust, real confidence.
Not everyone has experienced betrayal as a child, but many of us have, and even those of us who haven’t, have experienced other kinds of betrayal or failures. Sometimes the betrayal has been done by me. So it is hard to trust.
But the Lord died to wipe away our betrayals. For what is sin, if it’s not betrayal?
Unless you turn again and become like little children, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven (Mt 18:3).
This is what all of our asceticism is about. Learning to receive love—learning to make this act of the expectation of love that we call trust. And to experience our longing for him.
Longing is one of the elements in us that is profoundly defiled by the ways in which we have been hurt or have hurt ourselves. We almost always experience longing as simply an absence, an absence for which we are more or less guilty or might well be guilty. But no, this longing for God is simply our human condition.
It’s meant to be the Song of Songs kind of longing. Longing to receive the one whom we were created to be loved by and to love, confident that he will come.
What do we need to do to purify our longing—to enable us to wait with joyful hope? What does this little antiphon say? Keep watch, keep watch.
This is not easy, so we can’t be too hard on ourselves when we find it hard.
Keeping watch means not only being physically awake. It means having that kind of interior alertness that we have when we are waiting for someone we truly love, someone we truly need.
It’s not easy to live like that—to have that inner alertness that looks for and sees glimpses of God everywhere. The little antiphon says, take heart, take heart.
What are we waiting for? We are waiting for the One who is our Lord and our Savior and our Bridegroom, the One whose love we were created for—the one who will come to us and speak our name and take us home.
We need to learn to listen—to hear a word not only with our physical ears, but also the inner ears of our heart. That’s one reason we take times of silent prayer, of retreat, of poustinia: to listen, to learn to listen.
And usually what we hear, if we are able to listen with enough peace, is silence, the silence that is not empty but is filled with the Lord.
We often call that silence peace, but it’s more than what we usually mean by peace. It’s communion with God. This is what Advent is for.
But, you might say, during Advent, you are busy, busy, busy. This might even be your busiest time of year.
It turns out that this is one of the ways that human beings wait. They keep themselves busy.
We can be annoyed by this busyness or enjoy it or not think too much about it. And we can ask: what is all this Advent busyness, this getting-ready-for-Christmas busyness all about?
The answer is that it’s about love. It’s about making Christmas beautiful and rich and full for others.
A strange thing happens. Waiting for God means not only a poustinia kind of silence, but also a surrender to love.
Is this a surprise? The God whom we are waiting for is all about love. The meeting we are waiting for is going to happen because the one who is truly in charge of the meeting is love. And we find him both in silence and in pouring ourselves out in loving service.
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