by Ted Schroder
Paula Gooder, has written a superb book about the spirit of Advent entitled “The
Meaning is in the Waiting”. The title is taken from a poem by R.S. Thomas
(1913-2000), who was a pastor/poet in Wales. The poem, Kneeling, describes the
preacher in prayer before he speaks.
Moments of great calm,
Kneeling before an altar
Of wood in a stone church
In summer, waiting for the God
To speak; the air a staircase
For silence; the sun’s light
Ringing me, as though I acted
A great role, And the audiences
Still; all that close throng
Of spirits waiting, as I,
For the message.
Prompt me, God;
But not yet. When I speak,
Though it be you who speak
Through me, something is lost.
The meaning is in the waiting.
Thomas “articulates the fact that sometimes the really profound moments of our lives occur ‘in between’ at that moment just before something happens…sometimes the fulfillment of that for which we wait robs us of what we were waiting for and that we discover to our surprise that the meaning is in the waiting and not in the fulfillment.” (p.9,10)
Anticipation of an event gives eagerness to the moment. Expectations are aroused, senses are stimulated, prospects are anticipated and hope is energized. It is a moment pregnant with possibility. Anything can happen. The unexpected can occur. It is an adventure to be experienced, an unknown territory to be explored.
Gooder argues that, “Part of the clue to a reinvigorated and renewed vision of Advent lies in waiting; a waiting that rests not in frustration but in stillness; not in frenzied anticipation but in an embracing of the present. If we want to appreciate Advent fully, we need to relearn how to wait, to rediscover the art of savoring the future, of staying in the present and of finding meaning in the act of waiting.” (p.7)
Every Sunday in Advent we remember in turn the Patriarchs, the Prophets, John the Baptist, and Mary. Each shows us something of what the wait for Jesus entails.
Abraham and Sarah are studies in waiting. They journeyed with his father from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan, but settled half-way in Haran until his father died. They are promised land for an inheritance but due to a famine they went down to Egypt. They prospered, fought off marauders, and settled at Hebron. God continued to promise him land and offspring, but he remained childless. Sarah got impatient and offered Abraham her Egyptian maidservant, Hagar in the hope that she would provide a child. She became pregnant and bore Abraham a son, whom he named Ishmael. Sarah became jealous of Hagar and tried to get rid of her. Sarah “attempted a shortcut to the promises of God… This story highlights one of the problems that arise when we cannot or will not wait. Waiting draws us into a different way of being that does not rush for easy answers.” (Gooder, 37) Her refusal to wait for the Lord’s answer, caused great unhappiness. Our impatience can do likewise.
Recently, Antoinette and I were staying in a hotel and decided to have supper in the restaurant. When we went down, the maitre d’ told us that we would have to wait for an hour to be seated. There seemed to be plenty of empty tables, and we were hungry. We were frustrated at having to wait. Yet we were not in a hurry. We had the time. We were not going anywhere else. But my impatience led me to try two other restaurants without success. When we returned to the hotel we were seated within fifteen minutes. After the fact my impatience seemed so childish. From the perspective of the evening the wait was inconsequential. How much of life is like that! We want our children or grandchildren to mature and make wise decisions, on our timetable. But all too often it takes years for them to live into their maturity as people of faith. A church may take years to form an identity that is productive and healthy. You can achieve so much more in the long run than you think, and so much less in the short run than you want.
In a celebrated encounter the Lord appears to Abraham in the form of three men. He entertains them to a meal. They in return promise that Sarah will bear a son within twelve months. “Abraham and Sarah were already old and well advanced in years, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, ‘After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?’ Then the Lord said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord?’ (Genesis 18:11-14)
Isaac is born at the very time God had promised him. Later Abraham is tested to sacrifice Isaac, but God, at the very last moment, provided a lamb for the offering. Abraham waited for the Lord’s provision. Yet Hebrews 11 tells us that he died without receiving the things God had promised. He did not see descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore. He was still living by faith when he died. They only saw the things promised and welcomed them from a distance. “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” (Hebrews 11:39,40)
Abraham died before God’s promise of many descendants was fulfilled. Was he therefore disappointed? God also promised many other things. “I will make your name great.” (Genesis 11:2) “I am your shield and your very great reward.” (15:1) “I will make a covenant with you.” (17:2) “The Lord blessed him in every way.” (24:1) He became the “father of all who believe.” (Romans 4:11) “He is the father of us all.” (Romans 4:16)
What appears to be the most important thing, may not be the most important. “Waiting can be as important as achieving.” (Gooder, 51) The journey may be as important as arriving.
As we age, we have to learn to do a lot more waiting. We have to wait for repair-men, for our automobile to get serviced, for medical appointments, for the results of tests, for recovery and rehabilitation, and for death. Nursing homes are filled with people who are waiting for the next stage of their lives. They often feel that their lives are useless. But if the meaning is in the waiting, and God is in the waiting time, then we need to value that special time for what it is: an enjoyment of the presence of God in the present. In the perspective of eternity our time of waiting will seem childish. One of the petitions in The Litany is that we might be delivered from “violence, battle, and murder; and from dying suddenly and unprepared.” This life is a preparation for the next, and we need to take advantage of the time given us to put our own personal affairs in order, and get ready to
meet the Master when he returns for us.
As we await the coming of Christ, and the fulfillment of God’s promises we should learn from the example of Abraham and Sarah some 4,000 years ago. The meaning is in the waiting. Let us learn what God has to teach us in this in-between time, and be patient for his promises to be fulfilled.
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