What are we waiting for?
I am sure you have heard it.
Advent is a season of waiting.
And for that reason I find this liturgical season very meaningful, because I feel like a lot of my life involves waiting. Waiting for my students to show progress. Waiting for a friend to call. Waiting to see my family at Christmas. Waiting for the next step in my vocation.
What are you waiting for?
In 2010, Pope Benedict asked this question. I was still in college and waiting to discover what would come after. I had a vague idea about teaching, but I did not know that in a few short months I would be moving to Louisiana and beginning life as a first year English teacher. I did not know how hard it would be – or how much love I would receive and learn how to give. I was anxious to know what was going to come next.
The Pope said during the First Sunday of Advent that year:
One could say that man is alive as long as he waits, as long as hope is alive in his heart. And from his expectations man recognizes himself: our moral and spiritual “stature” can be measured by what we wait for, by what we hope for.
Every one of us, therefore, especially in this Season which prepares us for Christmas, can ask himself: What am I waiting for? What, at this moment of my life, does my heart long for?
(Source: Pope Bendict Angelus, First Sunday of Advent 2010 via Vatican.va)
The Pope is right when he says “man is alive as long as he waits.” The implication of course is that “when he no longer waits, man is no longer alive.”
The people of Israel know about waiting more than the rest of us. Theirs is a history of faithful waiting on the Lord, the mysterious God who speaks through their Law and their Prophets. These people still live waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promises.
Christians, too, live in waiting – in the already-but-not-yet waiting for the coming of Christ.
And all of us – even if we are not believers – are waiting. Waiting for tomorrow. Waiting for the next good day. Waiting for the pay raise, or the job offer, or the family reunion.
And yet I have such little patience for waiting!
In fact, I had thought for a time that waiting was not a good thing. After all, you cannot just follow Freidrich’s advice in The Sound of Music and simply “wait for life to start” until the love of your life finally shows up.
As much as I love Julie Andrews, I’m not waiting for life to start, I assured myself – since it already started for me over a quarter century (!) ago now. Life keeps happening whether you realize it or not. And, in the wise words of Ferris Bueller:
And the point behind carpe diem is, of course, not to wait. We are constantly afraid of missing out on life, so let’s seize it now before it gets away from us.
Advent, however, has a very different message. Yes, life has already started. But as Benedict says, really being alive means waiting.
But no one would ever have imagined that the Messiah could be born of a humble girl like Mary, the betrothed of a righteous man, Joseph. Nor would she have ever thought of it, and yet in her heart the expectation of the Savior was so great, her faith and hope were so ardent, that he was able to find in her a worthy mother. Moreover, God himself had prepared her before time. There is a mysterious correspondence between the waiting of God and that of Mary, the creature “full of grace”, totally transparent to the loving plan of the Most High. Let us learn from her, the Woman of Advent, how to live our daily actions with a new spirit, with the feeling of profound expectation that only the coming of God can fulfil. (Ibid)
Waiting is difficult and painful, but it is not fruitless. It is the proper posture of man before life.