Advent Waiting



You keep us waiting. You, the God of all time, want us to wait, for the right time in which to discover who we are, where we are to go, who will be with us, and what we must do.  So thank you … for the waiting time.

John Bell, quoted in The Westminster Collection of Christian Prayers, compiled by Dorothy M. Stewart


Advent: the time of waiting.  Most of us are not very good at waiting, and I speak as one who is not.  I am a horrible passenger in a motorway traffic jam – you ask my husband.  I am  forever saying that we are in the wrong lane and if only we move into that  lane we will go faster – then we do – and you know what happens: the lane we have been in begins to move and the one we have moved to gets stuck.  I used to get irritable in supermarkets for the same reason.  The queue I was in always seemed to be the slow one.  The more I let my mind dwell on it the more annoying it seemed; it was unjust!  Sometimes, of course, waiting is difficult because we are very busy.  Time is short and will actually run out on us before we have finished doing what we had planned to do if the person in front doesn’t hurry up.


There is, of course, another kind of waiting which tastes different.  This is the waiting for the good thing that you know will inevitably come but not yet.  This is the waiting that goes alongside longing and expectancy.  This is the delicious waiting that children (and grown up children) feel when looking forward to Christmas, or a lover feels in anticipation of seeing the beloved.  And then there is the harrowing or painful waiting that we live in when knowing that a loved one is dying or we are waiting for potentially disturbing news or looking forward to something difficult.  Finally there is the waiting of not knowing.  Is he alive or dead?  Will she ring me or ignore me?


Waiting as described above seems to be an “in between time” between the real parts of our lives – something we want to get through (or sometimes not) to reach reality.  But that is not how John Bell sees it as quoted above.  Nor is it as R S Thomas saw it in his poem, Kneeling.  There he tells us, “the meaning is in the waiting.”


We all have to learn to wait but waiting time is still time which we can “waste” or “kill”, or “make” or “fill.”  If we learn to see life as a gift, even the hard bits; if we learn to see time as sacred and give our attention to living not restlessly waiting for what is to come but attuned to what is now, we begin to be able to receive the gift of waiting.  One of the most precious ways of praying, contemplative prayer, is all about waiting on God without knowing most of the time if there is any response from the God we seek, but just waiting, patiently, longingly.


Waiting is something we have to learn how to do.  The mother waits for the baby inside her to grow, at first not even conscious that it is there.  Waiting time which is consciously given to God either in set aside times of prayer or in attentiveness to his presence and the gift of life of each moment, also bears fruit.  It teaches us gratitude, rather than frustration.  It teaches us to listen, to observe, to perceive what is really happening inside and out.  Over time it teaches wisdom.


So may I invite you not to use the time of Advent, simply as a period to be got through so that we can get to Christmas, but as the season it is – the waiting time, longing time, time of expectancy, God’s time, in which he will teach us that the meaning is to be found, actually, in the waiting.