Advent Week 1 – November 27, 2022

The Wisdom of Advent – Learning to Wait

Week 1: Hope

As we light the first purple candle in our Advent Wreath for the first week of Advent, I’ll explore what Advent can teach us about the roles of hope and faith as we wait.

Waiting often involves hopeful anticipation, fear of the unknown, or a mix of both. For milestones we’re eagerly waiting to arrive, we may exclusively focus on the good things that will come, hoping our lives will be changed for the better. For other milestones, we might wait with apprehension, consumed with worry about the unknown changes that we can’t yet see.

Faith can help settle both unrealistic giddy anticipation and sleepless night anxiety. Faith leads to hope, which provides a stable, solid, peaceful foundation to rest upon as we wait.

It can be difficult to maintain faith and hope while in a season of waiting. In some cases, what we’re waiting for is well-defined; we’re waiting for Christmas day to celebrate with our family and friends, or we’re waiting for the day of a scheduled medical procedure or a moving day. But many of our seasons of waiting involve transitions that aren’t so well defined. We may feel stuck in an in-between place, waiting for something we can’t clearly see and often not even knowing when it will arrive.

Henri Nouwen offers a perspective that can be helpful. He says, “We can only really wait if what we are waiting for has already begun. So waiting is never a movement from nothing to something. It is always a movement from something to something more1.” Nouwen reminds us that waiting for change is a process we can’t always see clearly when we are in the midst of it. But the fact that we are now waiting means the change has already begun. Although we may feel stuck, the process is already underway. This is where faith can help carry us.

Nouwen’s message helps remind us that change is always a process rather than a moment in time. We may think we’re waiting for a specific occurrence, but often we’re waiting for a process of unfolding rather than a milestone day. We might miss something important in the waiting process if we focus only on that milestone moment. Faith can help us trust that we’re okay, that the change we’re waiting for has begun even as we wait, and that this process may take an unknown amount of time.

For example, for years, I looked forward to the milestone of being retired. When my last day at work arrived, I celebrated with colleagues and friends. And for a while, I was thrilled at my ability to sleep in, go to the beach on a workday, pick up stamps at the Post Office without waiting in the inevitable Saturday long line, and generally do whatever I wanted each day. But then I realized that what I really wanted wasn’t the milestone day I left my job. What I actually wanted was to become a person with different priorities. Priorities focused on building a more meaningful life rather than advancing my career. And this wasn’t something I could capture as a milestone to be checked off a list – it would take introspection, time, and experimentation. It was a process of balancing my new free time with some structure, determining new life priorities, and discovering new goals and dreams.

Many things we wait for during our lifetime will fit into this pattern. And from where we are now, in the midst of waiting, we might not see the conclusion of this process. This is an uncomfortable and even downright scary place to be! We may feel stuck and impatient that nothing is happening. Or we might be terrified at the thought of so many unknowns. We know we can’t go back; we’ve already moved on from the place or person we used to be. But the road ahead is unclear.

This is when we need to hold tightly to our faith and trust that God will give us what we need to persevere in the process, day by day. We don’t have to see the entire path ahead of us or even have a clear understanding of what will come. We only need to take the next right step, trusting that God will give us what we need when we need it. Advent reminds us that we will soon celebrate the birth of Jesus as Immanuel – a Hebrew word meaning “God with us.” God is indeed with us in our daily lives, providing what we most need, even as we wait.


References

1. Henri Nouwen, “Advent: Waiting” in Seeds of Hope – A Henri Nouwen Reader, 157.

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