Clementine Von Radics said this, “You silly (person), you think you’ve survived so long that survival shouldn’t hurt anymore. You keep trying to turn your body bullet proof. You keep trying to turn your heart bomb shelter. You silly thing. You are soft and alive. You bruise and heal. Cherish it. It is what you are born to do.”
Living is hard. And so, it is no wonder that we have Isaiah’s words for us today… “Comfort, O comfort my people.” We are all looking for that comfort, for that reassurance in hard times. We are all looking for a sense of peace in the face of adversity. We are all looking for salvation from whatever we are struggling with. I saw a post the other day, “If Comedy is tragedy plus time, I need more time. But I would really settle for less tragedy to be honest with you.” I think especially this year as we struggle with what is happening in our communities, in our country and around the world, as we struggle with climate change and racism, sexism, heterosexism; as we see increased violence and hatred, as we fight among our families and as we polarize more and more. As we know people who've lost their homes to fires, to hurricanes, to disasters, to shootings...How do we face it all in this time that is supposed to be happy? We ask for comfort, we ask for Christmas.
But even as we yearn, we want, we ask for comfort, for Christmas, Advent is the time of waiting. The comfort doesn’t come right away, we aren’t healed instantly, the resurrection comes in steps, over time, sometimes so slowly we don’t even see it.
The journal, “spirituality and practice” lists several things we can do during advent to signal our willingness to wait, our commitment to waiting during this Advent time. These are: Let God sit in the director's chair. Give up your fantasy timetables and go with the flow. Do not try to push the river; all will happen in God's time. Let go of any negative images you carry around about waiting. Have faith that all good things come to those who wait patiently. Grow through periods of waiting that entail darkness and dread. Work to reduce your anger and frustration about waiting. Always be a person animated by hope. Take time during periods of waiting to count your blessings.
These are great suggestions (if a little naïve: all good things don’t come to EVERYONE who waits, and “blessings” take many forms, for example). Still, I admit from a personal perspective that I don’t wait well. I get really impatient and easily frustrated. This week showed a perfect example of this. I’ve had my computer for about four and a half years now, which is in itself an amazing thing since I seem to zap computers as well as other electronic devices, as many of you know. But it has been a long time and so now my computer appears to be in full-collapse mode. It runs extremely slowly, and it freezes up on a regular basis. I’ve taken it to get help many times over the years, at this point mostly from David, though I’ve also taken it into the Geek Squad. When Geek Squad “fixes” it, it usually it comes back with more problems than when it left. When David works on it, it’s fine for a while (after all, he’s managed to keep the thing running for 4 and half years which is the longest I’ve ever been able to keep a computer working), but that “while” is becoming shorter and shorter. Again, this is typical for me. My electro-aura simply zaps anything and everything electronic, and since I use my computer a lot, it tends to develop problems quickly. Being in a close relationship with an IT guy though can actually make the problems worse in that the computer usually works for him. Just not for me. This week my computer developed a new issues. I was working on my sermon and wanted to use some internet resources that I had bookmarked and set aside for this Sunday. But as I tried to pull up those pages that I had bookmarked, they failed to load. I sat and watched as my lap top connected to the internet, disconnected from the internet, connected and disconnected itself in rapid succession. I ran the “trouble-shooter”, which told me the problem was not with my computer but with the router. But since we currently have a plethora of computers, smart phones and other devices that connect themselves to the internet and none of these were having issues, I knew that no, despite the computer’s desire to blame something else, the problem was once again with my lap-top. I became extremely frustrated, impatient, did not want to wait until things could be fixed or redone or set up in a new way. I did not want to borrow someone else’s computer since my sermon was partly written on my own already, I did not want to DEAL with the waiting. I wanted things fixed NOW. Can you relate to that frustration and struggle with waiting?
More seriously, if you have ever been on a mission trip, you may have found that the hardest moments are those of waiting. In all my years of leading mission trips, I have found a pretty consistent pattern. We go to do work, to fix up houses, to help people with their disasters and their homes. But part of the process of these trips is that we go, evaluate what exactly needs to be done, and then need to purchase the materials. That involves waiting for people to return with the materials, often discovering they aren’t quite the right ones, waiting for our local carpentry expert to return with ideas and the trailer to go pick up more materials. There is a great deal of waiting. When we have traveled far to make a difference and we have limited time to be there, the waiting is extremely hard.
But as with every challenge, when we have eyes to see we can choose to look at everything that happens as blessings from God. My moments without internet access have been a gift, if only I would choose to use it in that way, because they did call me to sit still, to wait, and to think about the lessons in that waiting, for me, in that moment. The article from Spirituality and Practice that talked about the commitments we can make to waiting during Advent also talked about the spiritual gifts that come from the practice of waiting. These include developing patience, giving up control and accepting what IS, learning to live in the present, compassion, gratitude, humility, and most of all, trust in God. They are invitations to take time to pray, to cry out, if that is what we are feeling, in the frustration and impatience of the moment. These moments and weeks call us to take the time of waiting as the gift that it is to talk to God, to rest, to wait. The moments of waiting at the mission sites invite us to spend time talking with the people we are helping and with each other. Those conversations and the building of relationships are so much more important, frankly, than the physical work we do anyway. Those create opportunities to learn as well. Why are some people in these situations while we are not? What have lives been like that have given some so many more advantages and privileges than others? These opportunities for relationship are also invitations to grow.
Our culture has become more and more an “instant gratification” culture. There is very little opportunity for us to learn patience, to learn to give up control over our surroundings and the things that happen to us, to learn to be wholly present in each moment, despite whatever we have or don’t have right now. There is very little opportunity, as we depend on our things, and on our toys and on the internet and our instant access to information, communication, resources, etc to learn to trust God for what the next moments might hold for us. With all of that, is it any surprise that people are not as interested in faith issues? For those who have not experienced needing to rely solely on their trust of God, and finding that that trust really is enough to carry us through, that God really is with us, why would we trust God? If we haven’t experienced God in this way, how can we trust that God will be there for us in those times? It is something we are called to practice: to practice reliance on God.
Waiting is hard. But God gives us this gift, and we have the chance to grow from it. John the Baptist came paving the way for Jesus, inviting the wait before Jesus’ began his ministry. Isaiah proclaimed the coming of justice, of comfort, of release from oppression. And he wrote that in a time of exile for the Israelites. They weren’t home, but exiled to a foreign land. Isaiah’s declaration of God’s promise was sound. They were returned home. But none of that was instantaneous. The Israelites had to wait decades. These things were coming. These passages were and are calls to live into hope while we wait. To trust in God, while we wait. To let go of control, while we wait. To learn patience while we wait.
I think we will find that there are gifts even beyond the Spiritual gifts I already listed in the waiting. I found this quote as well from AA Milne’s Winnie the Pooh: “Well, said Pooh, “what I like best,” and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.”
I think it’s called “Advent”.
There is something deliciously wonderful in the anticipation of the good that is about to come. There is something amazingly wonderful in the moments before you open that first Christmas present, in the moments before you see your new baby for the first time, in the moments before that visitor you’ve waited for has come. There is something incredibly life-giving in the hope and anticipation of Advent. Experience it, live it, enjoy it. For it is a gift from God.