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Hurry Up and Wait: Welcome to Advent

by Jeremy Hiers, O.S.A.

What are you longing for?

When I was a High School senior, I applied to enter the U.S. military. Military entrance involves a weekend visit to a Military Entrance Processing Station, more frequently known by its acronym MEPS. When I entered the MEPS process, I was ordered to leave all my belongings at the door, I was assigned a number that replaced my real name, and I spent the weekend being ordered around to various parts of the building for numerous interviews and examinations. Each stop involved a lot of waiting, sometimes for several hours for my number to be called, just so I could hurry up and wait in the waiting room of my next appointment. While the waiting was difficult for an 18 year old like myself, the most difficult part of the process was that I had no idea if my devotion to going through this process would yield what I was hoping for, that is admittance to the United States military. Hope was my only consolation.

So … what are you longing for?

Isn’t life often just like the military entrance process? We are often called to hurry up and wait with hope. To hope for, but wait for our dreams to come true. To hope for, but wait for that next promotion at work. To hope for, but wait for that difficult period or stage in our life to pass. To hope for, but wait for that next spiritual breakthrough. Hurry up and wait without any control over the speed of life or the success of our endeavors.

What are you waiting for?

In the Christian life … we are waiting for a Savior who fulfills our deepest longings. A Savior who came to be with us 2,000 years ago, a Savior who will come again in fullness in the Second Coming, a Savior who comes to be with us today and everyday.

“I am with you always until the end of the age”

Matthew 28:20

Yet, despite his ever abiding presence that transcends time, numerous distractions can often cause me to fail to recognize Him in the many concrete circumstances of my lifes. While I can speak only for myself in this regard, I posit I’m not the only human that doesn’t like to hurry up and wait, whether it is at a Military Entrance Processing Station or any number of life scenarios where we are often asked to wait. I imagine most people, like myself, don’t really enjoy waiting for a sense of God’s presence in those times when He feels distant, though He promised at His Ascension that He would always be with us (Matthew 28:20). Most if not all of us probably don’t really enjoy waiting for our prayers to be answered, though God promised us that all prayers asked in His name would be answered (John 14:14). Most of us probably do not enjoy waiting in expectation that our needs will be met when God promised He would care for us just as God cares for the lilies of the field (Matthew 6:28). When we get tired of waiting, we tend to take matters into our OWN hands. We choose to be self-reliant and forget about relying on God to help us hurry up and wait for all the good that is waiting for us when we do things God’s way rather than our own.

“You were within me … and I was in the external world … and I sought you there”

Saint Augustine

For Augustine recognizing the Savior’s presence involves being open and present to the Savior’s presence that is already with us. A presence that often resides where we do not look for Him because we are looking for Him outside of ourselves. We restlessly look for pleasure, truth, and fulfillment outside of the one true source of all those things: God. Waiting is certainly not made any easier by our modern entitled problem-solving culture, our Google and Amazon Prime culture where the answers and solutions we are looking for are seemingly only a keystroke or a 2-day shipping guarantee away. In this culture, many including myself have become uncomfortable with any notion of waiting, whether that is waiting for information, waiting for something to get fixed, waiting for the next high that comes with buying something new, waiting to allow life to unfold as God intended it to.

In such a culture, we often have to remind ourselves, as Saint Augustine did, that the God of the universe we believe in, the God who saves us, does not use Google to answer our major life questions and God’s promises do not come with a 2-day guarantee. It is when we have difficulty accepting this truth that we, like Augustine, are tempted to seek God outside of ourselves in all the things that give us temporary relief and temporary highs rather than waiting with openness for the God who is already there.

This is what Advent is all about. Anticipating the God who is already here with us till the end of the age.

So if the military slogan is to “Hurry Up and Wait,” perhaps the slogan for the Christian life in the season of Advent is to hurry up and wait WELL. Waiting WELL by shifting our focus from the external to the internal, from self-reliance to reliance on God. To journey towards Christmas by waiting with eager anticipation of Christ’s already existing loving presence in all the good and bad circumstances of our lives.

So … what are you longing for?

This year of social distancing, civil unrest, and uncertainty has given us all something to long for. It seems nobody, no matter how rich or poor has escaped at least some negative impact from COVID19. I am yet to meet someone who doesn’t long for something they have lost over the past year, whether it is something as simple as the privilege of going out to eat with friends or something as traumatic as a loved one who is no longer with us. Humanity can unite around the fact that we have all journeyed through some sort of loss this past year, even if it was the loss of the false perception that we are in control.

Perhaps this Advent is an opportunity for Christians to experience solidarity in helping each other wait well with hope for the experience of the loving God who is walking with us in this most difficult time, especially in those times when we find ourselves growing impatient, frustrated, anxious, or scared. Perhaps our prayer this Advent can be to ask God to help us wait well together for that which we hope for at Christmas, to wait well together for that which we long for in a post-pandemic world, to wait well together for that which we long for at the Second Coming. Perhaps Christians can unite in prayer for the grace to wait well by being a little less self-reliant and a little more reliant on God. To become more aware of the loving God who walks with us through even our darkest valleys (Psalm 23:3-4). To ask God for help in letting go of that which blocks us from creating the space to contemplate and meditate on the many promises of the God who is already within us.

“Let us leave a little room for reflection in our lives, room too for silence. Let us look within ourselves and see whether there is some delightful hidden place inside where we can be free of noise and argument. Let us hear the Word of God in stillness and perhaps we will then come to understand it.”

Saint Augustine (Sermon 52, 22)

To help each other wait well by working together to create that space. Perhaps by mutually agreeing to put off an unnecessary project that really doesn’t need to get done right now; perhaps by abstaining from some habit or pleasure that distracts us and tempts us to keep seeking fulfillment, answers, and solutions outside of ourselves; perhaps delaying that next planned purchase until after Christmas; or agreeing to encourage one another on a daily basis (1 Thes. 5:11). All for the sake of having just a little more time to wait well for the fulfillment of the many promises God gave us, but gave us without the famous Amazon Prime 2-day shipping guarantee. When we wait WELL through this difficult time, we will have an opportunity to celebrate more fully on Christmas Day of 2020 the wonderful loving presence of the Christ who has been journeying with us all along.

“God stretches our desire through delay, stretches our soul through desire, and makes it large enough by stretching it. Let us desire, then, because we have to be filled.”

Saint Augustine (On the First Letter of John, 4)
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