My family takes a lot of road trips. We’ve driven across the country several times, and to pass the time, I have mastered the art of annoying my parents. Growing up, I would sit in the backseat and religiously chant, “How many more minutes until we get there, Dad? How many more minutes.” At one point, my sister timed my frequency, and on average, I chanted this question every five minutes. My dad, often exasperated, would look straight at my desperate, restless eyes through his mirror and declare, “Daniella, stop asking and wait. We’ll get there when we get there.”
2020 has delivered an infinite series of emotions, and for many of us, restlessness is high up on the list. Many have walked through valleys of death, illness, unemployment, and despair. As a law student in our nation’s capital, I’m inundated with partisan news and post-election fright. Injustice runs rampant throughout our country. I’m also one of 40 percent of U.S. adults who have struggled with mental health and/or substance abuse during this pandemic.
Things have gone horribly off the rails. These overwhelming realities bring me back to sitting in the car and desperately asking when we would reach the end. So, as our commercial, consumer culture starts rolling out Christmas, I’m tempted to string up my lights, decorate my tree, and call it a year.
Advent means “coming.” The two comings of Jesus that the Church anchors herself in during this season are Christ’s Incarnation and his second coming. When we beseech Emmanuel to come, we are not just reliving the ancient Israelites’ longing for the awaited Messiah. We are also awaiting his victorious return and renewing of the universe. But to be completely honest, waiting for Christ in a year where we are currently waiting out death, disease, despair, and so much darkness seems impossible and pointless. Why can’t we just move on to the feasting and festivities? I desperately need the joy of Christmas, the blessed assurance that God has become man. I need to marvel in the innocence of a baby, the tender purity of salvation. But as I’ve frustratedly questioned why church history and my faith tradition force me to wait, I’ve realized that perhaps waiting is an invitation to more of God’s presence.
Waiting exposes our hearts.
Me waiting impatiently in the car exposed my inability to zip it. More deeply, it exposed my selfishness and my idols of comfort and convenience. Similarly, waiting during the pandemic has exposed my hatred of indeterminacy because it diminishes my sense of control. The root of most sin comes down to pride. I want it my way. Another example of exposure has come through the realization that my prayer life has shallowed. I find it so hard to be still and know He is God (Psalm 46:10) when I’m faced with dozens of distractions from the latest pandemic news to incessantly perusing my phone to communicate with friends.
In the Book of Common Prayer, our Confession of Sin prays, “we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.” For me, waiting out the pandemic has exposed how I’ve neglected to invest in relationships with specific friends and family because I’ve been using my school busyness as an excuse. I didn’t even realize this until I was faced with a season of waiting.
As Advent extends our windows of waiting, I both dread and desire for God to keep exposing my inadequacies, habits, and sins.
Waiting expands our space.
Jesus didn’t pop out as a fully formed baby. God planted the seed of new life, but Mary waited for nine months. And as she waited, her womb expanded.
God’s choice of pregnancy as the vehicle through which to deliver his Son into the world is fascinating. Yes, it’s part of what constitutes being human. But growing God’s dreams and desires in our bodies, minds, hearts, and spirits also requires us to make room. Sometimes, like pregnancy, God organically expands our capacity.
Other times, we are assigned this responsibility, an often painful process requiring an exchange of our desires and dreams for what is actually best for us. We are invited to take an extensive inventory of our spirituality – to discard lesser habits, eliminate reductive sins, and clear out junk that gets in the way of receiving the fullness of Christ’s love.
Even though finding and fighting sin is never pretty, what a small cost when we consider that God is continually making room for us. He created the world for us to inhabit, and He took on our flesh to make room for our redemption and sanctification. Through His resurrection, ascension, and eventual return, He is always making room for us to join and delight in His present and future kingdom.
Waiting expects fulfillment.
Part of the reason we feel so exhausted by this pandemic is the uncertainty surrounding its ending. While the pace of vaccine development inspires some hope, confusions abound around efficacy, timing, and scope.
Unlike waiting out an uncertain pandemic, however, Advent encompasses a finite waiting. We are assured that Christ will return, He will triumph, and all will be well. Because we are waiting with a promised end in mind, we don’t wallow in the hypothetical or dwell in speculation. And this confident hope in God’s promises cultivates a transformation of our hearts. Instead of passively waiting, we actively expect our Lord’s return. We don’t know details of how He will come into our lives, but we are filled with anticipation of wonderful, magnificent, and beautiful hope. And as we expect and hope, Isaiah 40:31 teaches us that God will renew our strength. We will soar on eagles’ wings and receive God’s provision of energy and sustenance.
And what is our ultimate fulfillment? Emmanuel, God with us. He is with us now, but during Advent, we look forward to the day where we will be completely with Him. So this Advent, as I continue the daunting and difficult task of waiting, I take comfort in the fact that my responsibility is not to will the destination into existence. Instead, we all begin again the process of accepting temporal uncertainty.
We don’t have to incessantly question when this year’s trials will end because we have complete trust and certainty in God’s ultimate coming. In the words of my dad, “We’ll get there when we get there.” In the meantime, o come, o come, Emmanuel.