The Wisdom of Advent – Learning to Wait
Week 2: Love.
As we light the second purple candle in our Advent wreath, I’ll explore what Advent can teach us about how love can help us as we wait.
When we’re in a season of waiting, it can feel like a lonely time. Even if we’re waiting for something that many other people have also experienced, our process will always have flavors and nuances, particularly our own. Our journey is unique and specific to us.
This can make us feel alone and keep us from accessing (or even recognizing) the love and support that is available to us. If we don’t share our experience with people we love and trust, we can only see our process (and progress) through our own narrow perspective. A perspective that can often be warped by self-judgment. We could be waiting for a transition that appears easy for others and feel like there’s something wrong with us for struggling. Or, we could measure ourselves against some mythical “correct” timeline and feel we should be through the process by now. Or, we might think that no one else would understand how we’re feeling and what we’re going through.
Advent is a perfect time to rediscover the message of how much God loves us in all our imperfections. This Advent season could be when you allow this message of divine unconditional love to override any old beliefs about God as the supreme judge, focused on keeping a list of all our failings. Wisely, the church calendar reminds us every year (because we seem to keep forgetting this truth) that God chose to become human. To share in all aspects of our messy, imperfect humanity. And so He understands what it means to be a flawed human being.
We are reminded of this every year when we celebrate the birth of Jesus. God becomes human – a baby born in a stable, helpless, and totally dependent on his parents. This story is so familiar that we easily overlook the scandal of it all. We’ve heard the story so much that it no longer takes our breath away to contemplate the implications. But this Advent, as we wait for the reminder of the birth which changed everything, maybe we can reconnect with wonder at the incomprehensible magnitude of this love.
Although we can always experience God’s love, sometimes we still need more. We’re not meant to be alone in the world or to wait alone. We need other people as companions. God gives us the blessing of other people – whether it be friends, family, neighbors, or our religious community. We can wait together as Mary and Elizabeth waited together for the birth of their sons.
Henri Nouwen reminds us of this powerful example of what it means to wait together. “What happened when Mary received the words of promise? She went to Elizabeth. Something was happening to Elizabeth as well as to Mary. But how could they live that out? …Mary’s visit made Elizabeth aware of what she was waiting for. The child leapt for joy in her. Mary affirmed Elizabeth’s waiting… These two women created space for each other to wait. They affirmed for each other that something was happening that was worth waiting for.”1
Waiting is a communal act. Having trusted companions with us as we wait makes the waiting easier. It can provide that mutual affirmation to reassure us what we’re waiting for is worth waiting for. And creating space for waiting can be helpful to others as well as for ourselves. Perhaps, sharing our experience of waiting can help someone else recognize their season of waiting or grant them permission to ask for support the next time they are waiting.
1. Henri Nouwen, “Advent: Waiting,” in Seeds of Hope – A Henri Nouwen Reader, 161.