By the time you read this, the Christmas Season may well be upon us. Remember Christmas begins on Christmas day, and comes to an end on the feast of Epiphany. The period before Christmas is Advent; four weeks long, and rightly so, because we need to prepare ourselves well for the celebration of the coming of God as a human person in Jesus Christ.
The most basic way we prepare during the weeks of Advent; in fact the way we prepare for any significant event, is by waiting! Very few, if any of us, like waiting. It’s boring and frustrating, and often seems like a waste of time. But, if you think about it, we spend a large part of our lives waiting. In fact, somebody once said that “life is simply about waiting for the next thing to happen.” There is a lot of truth in this. We seem to spend most of our time waiting for some event, person or ideal situation that will fulfill us or bring some meaning into our lives. So we constantly look for stimulation and distraction and excitement, chasing them in the hope that this will be that one thing. In other words, we are waiting. A lot of the time we don’t know precisely what we are waiting for. There is a deep restlessness within us that seeks rest and peace. A deep hunger that seeks satiety. A deep loneliness that seeks intimacy. And all our searching and chasing and striving is the external expression of our inner spiritual and psychological state of waiting. We escape the torment of confronting this restless yearning within by escaping into superficial distractions: entertainment, sport-adulation, shopping, internet-surfing, mobile phone addiction, etc… We refuse to wait in stillness, silence and interior reflection. We anaesthetise ourselves to the inner call which so insistently invites us into depth experiences with Self and God. The challenge is too great, the demands too time-consuming, and the sacrifices too frightening. We prefer to live on the surface and engage life superficially.
In Advent, we confront this restless yearning within. We deliberately mark off the days until we celebrate Christmas. That day which commemorates the most significant moment in the history of the world, when God entered into the world and interrupted human history in the person of Jesus Christ. But more than that: the almighty creator of the universe broke into His creation in the form of a helpless newborn baby in circumstances of abject want. And this moment, this event, this baby, is that one reality that will fill our emptiness, assuage our restlessness, calm our fears, love us in our loneliness, and give meaning to our existence. But first we must recognise our distracted and frenetic living for what it is: the exterior symptom of a soul hungry for meaning, and a deep loneliness longing for relationship. We need to accept the challenge to sit with our inner unease and to connect with the emptiness in our hearts. To not run away from ourselves and to decide to stay with the confusing and frightening inner realities we encounter once we let go of the outer distractions, is already a courageous movement towards wholeness and peace. And now we sit and wait.
And we know well that the only way to wait well is to wait patiently. The word patience has its roots in the latin verb patior, which means to suffer. Patience is suffering, and once you accept that then it’s simply a matter of allowing the agony and torment of waiting not to overwhelm you into giving up the waiting. To wait patiently then, means to stay in the present and not run away – endure the counting down of the time and the marking off of the moments. It means not to wait in a resigned and helpless way, but to actively engage with the process. When you begin to do this you also begin to discover that the actual waiting slowly begins to transform you. That is already one of the fruits of waiting – the steady transformative process that brings about the change for which you have been yearning. From this you learn to be gracious in the waiting, you begin to wait gracefully, without impatience and irritability. You begin to believe that that which is coming, the intended reality, is indeed on the way. While you cannot yet see that promised reality, your waiting has transformed you and granted you a spiritual sensitivity that enables you to already hear its coming. And now entering fully into the present moment, waiting patiently and gracefully, you begin to discern signs of the One who is to come. Expectant hope replaces anxious longing as the One who is to come is already beginning to offer glimpses of His presence. Shadows of loneliness and longing begin to fade and the first rays of light begin to appear on the horison of our hearts. And then, like the dawn from on high, the loving kindness of our God breaks upon us, and we bask in the warmth and light of His presence. Yet in this warmth and light we gradually become aware that this presence has a deep familiarity about it, it is not unknown to us. It has been a deep and hidden presence all along and yet we have been unaware of it. It dawns on us that He has been present with us all along and that we have only now awakened to the presence of the ever-present One, Emmanuel – God is with us.