What Are We Waiting For?

When I was a child I loved Advent. I loved lighting candles and watching the light grow even as the days became darker. I loved the familiar hymns. I loved opening the little doors on my calendar. I loved the smell of cookies in the oven and the big spruce tree that had to be watered every day but still dropped needles all over the carpet. I loved the way our spare bedroom became a place for secrets: mysterious bundles and rolls of wrapping paper. But as much as I loved Advent, I also found it a strange season.

Everyone said Advent was a time for getting ready—for waiting. But what were we waiting for? The birth of Jesus? How could we still be waiting for someone born so long ago? The usual reply was that we were waiting for Christ to come again. But what did that mean? And what did all our preparations—the cooking and wrapping and baking half a dozen varieties of cookies—really have to do with Jesus anyway?  

Unlike Lent, which has a coherent story built around following Jesus on the way to Jerusalem, Advent seems stitched together from bits and pieces: prophetic words of consolation; hints about one who is coming; glimpses of an imagined future. The only thing that holds it all together is the idea of waiting: waiting for a better future; waiting for an end to exile; waiting for a savior. But what are we waiting for?

When I had children of my own, I was eager to share with them many of the Advent traditions I had enjoyed. We also added new ones: a Jesse tree with ornaments lovingly crafted by hand; an Advent Spiral around which a wooden Mary and her donkey travelled on her journey inward; a library of seasonal picture books. But the question still lingered: What are we waiting for? What is the purpose of this sacred season? Where are we in this story? If all our rituals do not connect in some genuine way with who we are and what we are meant to be and do, then what is the point?

 

These questions simmered in the background until one Advent when a surprising image presented itself. I was blending sweet potatoes for my youngest child, helping my son cut out ginger cookies, and trying to keep my middle daughter out of the dough, when a passage from the letter to the Galatians popped into my head (an occupational hazard for a student of the New Testament). Paul, frustrated with the behavior of the community of Christians in Galatia, decides to lay on some guilt and compares himself to their mother who endured the pains of childbirth for them, but now—horror of horrors—finds himself in labor all over again because of their immaturity. In a fascinating double metaphor, Paul not only envisions himself as a woman in labor, but also warns the Galatians that his pangs will not go away “until Christ is formed in you.” In other words, they are pregnant too, struggling to bring Christ to birth.

Like the best metaphors, this one both startled and enthralled me. As I watched my children toddle around the kitchen, the idea of them being pregnant with Christ made me laugh. But at the same time, I knew there was some deep truth here. What is the point of Advent? Not more busyness at a time already overstuffed with commitments. Not sentimental traditions or empty rituals. Not an acting out of something that happened long ago and far away. Suddenly I could see more clearly the now of Advent.

Advent is a time to practise patience as something new is formed in us. Advent is a time to be particularly open to the Spirit. Advent is a time to watch for ways we can take part in transforming aworld which cries out for healing. Advent is a season for looking—searching for signs of Christ bursting into the world, and knowing that we are all invited to share in that holy work.

Now there is a worthwhile invitation. So what are we waiting for?

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Look! A Child’s Guide to Advent and Christmas presents Advent as special time for waiting and watching—paying attention—to the ways God comes to us.

Told from the point of a view of a child, the story weaves together familiar Advent traditions like the Jesse tree and the Advent wreath, biblical stories and characters, and reflections on what these stories call us to do and be.

This book reassures children of the presence of God in all times and places and invites them to become part of the holy work of making Christ present in the world.

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