This week, we begin our Advent and Christmas series: As We Wait. In our looking back and looking forward, Advent is a time of waiting. Of course, waiting is a loaded word. We wait for good and bad things. Waits are long and short. We can wait alone or wait with others.
We’re not a people who like to wait. When I was young, I remember having to wait to hear a special song on the radio or a specific night when my favorite show would be on TV. We use to have to wait for our pictures to be developed and for the mail to bring a letter from a loved one. Now we can do all of this on our phone wherever we are.
Despite our efforts to conquer time, though, it still exists. And because time exists, there are times we still need to wait. Waiting reminds us that we are not in control (something we don’t like to admit).
So what do we do in our waiting? During Advent we will consider how we anticipate, watch, listen, and remember as we wait. And how are waiting prepares us for the wonder of Christmas. We begin this week with a passage from Genesis:
At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made and sent out the raven; and it went to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth. Then he sent out the dove from him, to see if the waters had subsided from the face of the ground; but the dove found no place to set its foot, and it returned to him to the ark, for the waters were still on the face of the whole earth. So he put out his hand and took it and brought it into the ark with him.
He waited another seven days, and again he sent out the dove from the ark; and the dove came back to him in the evening, and there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf; so Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth.
Then he waited another seven days, and sent out the dove; and it did not return to him any more. – Genesis 8:6-12 (NRSV)
I imagine Noah and his family were ready to leave the ark. I have no idea how long Noah thought he’d be on the ark when all this started. It probably didn’t seem long until he thought it would be forever — waiting and wondering if God remembered them in an earth full of water.
But the rain did end and the waters gradually receded. With great hope, Noah sent out a dove only to have it return. And so, Noah waited seven more days. Seven more days: waiting to see if there was anything else left in the world other than water; waiting for some sign of hope that life outside the ark was possible; waiting to see if God truly remembered him.
At the end of the seven days, Noah sent the dove out again. This time, when it returned, it brought a sign of hope: an olive leaf in its beak. But a leaf is not enough for the dove to rebuild a life, let alone Noah’s family and the animals waiting in the ark. So, Noah waited seven more days.
A lot can happen in seven days. If we think back to the first two chapters of Genesis, these additional seven days Noah had to wait for a sign that life could survive is also the time span of creation. Each day that we wait for hope or peace or freedom is the same period of time that God created light, separated the waters from the land, or breathed life into humanity. Each only a day, but we know a day can seem like forever when we’re waiting for hope to arrive.
We do a lot of waiting, so you would think we would be good at it. But life’s waiting often feels less like the anticipation of a child for their birthday and more like being on hold with the cable company — low expectations and waiting so long that we get distracted and don’t even realize when they finally take us off hold.
As we near the two-year mark of this pandemic, we are still waiting. I think most of us thought we were done with waiting after we waited for a vaccine. And waited to receive it. But we are still waiting, waiting, waiting for life not to revolve around masks, social distancing, viral load, and positive test rates. Waiting, waiting, waiting to be able make plans that we expect to see happen. Waiting, waiting, waiting to find out what “normal” will look like.
We are even waiting in the midst of our waiting: for test results, for news about a new job, for a relationship to be healed. The words of the prophets are our words:
We wait for light but there is only darkness and gloom;
We wait for justice and salvation but they are beyond reach.
Waiting seems to be our new normal and now we come to Advent when we are told to wait some more.
The world has been waiting a long time, and none of us would probably say we expect that this year is the year. We can wonder, “Why celebrate Advent again? We’ll just be doing it again next year.”
This is probably true.
But our Advent waiting isn’t a liturgical exercise limited to these four weeks before Christmas. Every day of our life, we are living in the midst of Advent. Life is a time of expectation waiting for what we know is to come.
In this way, our Advent waiting becomes different. It is active and participating. It is hopeful. In fact, the Hebrew word for wait is also translated as hope. This is what we declare during Advent: our act of waiting is an act of hope. Like Noah, we send the dove out expecting it to find life.
In Advent, as we light the candles, we remember that we don’t stop living just because our waiting continues. We tell each other once again that we believe in miracles. We proclaim that how we live matters. Each day is an opportunity to live in the grace Jesus has lavished on us. Each day is an opportunity to share the hope that saves us. Every day is an opportunity to be Christ in the world until Christ comes again.
John tells us
The true light, which enlightens everyone, [has come and is] coming into the world.
We know this is true. And because we have hope, we are able to wait. Amen.