The theme of Advent is waiting. And waiting itself, which is a very concrete experience, is about more than waiting. Waiting is a universal human experience. It is also a symbol of our finitude, the limitations with which we must all live. It is a consequence and symbol of our lack of control. There are things we cannot make happen. There are things we cannot make happen at all. We have to wait for them.
We plant a seed in the ground, and there are lots of things we can do to create good conditions for the seed to grow and to keep ourselves busy. But we still need to wait. At best, we are cooperating with some other forces and powers.
What do we do while we are waiting? What do we do until Christ comes? What do we do with those places and situations in our lives where we are not finally in control? They are scary places, vulnerable places for many of us.
One of the traditional Christian answers to the question of what we do during Advent is to watch. Watch and pray, Jesus tells his disciples more than once. One of the things we do in those places and dimensions of our lives where we are not fully or finally in control is to watch. Stay alert. Pay attention.
We do this because life or the universe or God has a way of sometimes having something else in mind other than what we are waiting for. The reason we have to wait, the reason we are not fully in control of our lives and world, is because something greater and bolder and more wonderful is happening here than we could imagine, plan, or engineer.
Most of the time, the most amazing parts of life are not the things we’ve planned for but the things life throws at us. The growing edge of our lives is not the stuff we are managing and in control of, but the place where we are not in control.
The psalmist in Psalm 130 adds another dimension to this.
He begins the Psalm by praying, “Out of the depths I cry to you,
O Lord.” From the profound places I cry out to you, O Lord.
“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits for the Lord…more than those who watch for the morning…” In the midst of whatever profound sadness or grief the Psalmist is in, he waits, and the waiting is hard and long and seems to take forever, but he waits with confidence that the Lord, like the morning, will come.
The struggle of waiting, of not being fully or finally in control, is the struggle of trust. Is life, with all its ups and downs and fears and surprises, finally good? After the darkest night, will the morning eventually come?
To watch for the morning in the profoundest night is an act of trust, the essential act of faith. It is what we are invited and called to do as people of faith. It is what we are invited and called to share with all those around us in despair.
While we wait, in those places where we are not in control of our future, our own existence, on the other side of the night is the morning. Watch for it.