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Learning to Wait in a Culture of Busyness: Advent Reflections

Monday, 1 December 2014  | Tess Holgate

We do not live in an age of waiting. Or at least, not for significant periods of time. When I order my soy flat white at the coffee shop I expect to wait maximum 5 minutes for it to arrive, but any longer than that and I begin to think they’ve forgotten me, and attempt to send a smoke signal to the waitress making chit chat with that cute guy over there. When the train is delayed by 9 minutes, I spend several of those minutes lamenting the state of Sydney’s public transport system. When I wanted to read Gone Girl, it took me a whole 23 seconds to decide to break my golden rule and buy a new book before I’d finished the current one. I jaywalk more often than I care to admit because I’m in a hurry and don’t want to wait for the 'little green man'. I send an email and wonder why I haven’t received a response within 10 minutes. Peak hour traffic: need I say more? We do not live in an age of waiting.

This is a perplexing development, especially given how often I hear parents say to their children, “not now, you have to wait”. I should think that this would make for a generation full of people who knew how to wait patiently. Instead, somehow, we have become a society where we don’t wait for very much, or for very long.  

Today marks the first day of Advent, meaning coming or arrival. The word itself refers to the period leading up to Christmas, and has been practised by Christians for many hundreds of years. It is a period of waiting designed to teach us something. But what? 

Like so many things, the real meaning of Advent has been obscured by its commercialisation. My first exposure to Advent was to those cutesy holiday calendars that reward you with a chocolate every day of December. Sweet, sweet waiting. This is a pointless practice of Advent, because it teaches us nothing. What did I learn from the chocolate calendar? Only that each day I would receive chocolate, and that if I waited 25 days I would receive a larger, inexcusable amount of sweets and lollies. This isn’t the point of Advent.  

The point, which must not be lost, is that over the 25 days, we are put into the shoes of Israel as they waited for the Messiah, and then put into the shoes of the prophets who prophesied of his arrival. This Messiah is Jesus Christ. We celebrate his birth on Christmas Day. The first point of Advent then, is to together remind each other of God’s great act of grace: the birth of Jesus Christ.  

But seriously, that was ages ago. Why should I remember the waiting of Israel, and the prophecies about his coming? I live after Jesus. I don’t need to wait for him to come, die and rise again, thereby securing my salvation. He has already come and gone, and is now installed in heaven.  

If this were your question, it’s exactly the right one. We’re not waiting for Jesus to bring salvation. We’ve already got that. We live in the privileged position of being able to look back on the cross. But we are waiting for him to bring something. 

Jesus isn’t finished with the world. He will come back to renew all things: 'a new heaven and a new earth'. This is the second purpose of Advent: to look forward to the second coming—or advent—of Jesus. This means that in the period leading up to Christmas, we look both backwards—to Israel and their waiting—and forwards, to Jesus’ return.  

So, during Advent, we remember how others waited for the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ and we look forward to when he will come again; practising a kind of holy discontentment with the sin and evil in this world, looking forward to the day when Jesus will come and bring justice, healing, and judgement.  

I’ve always been curious about Advent. I love the cute little calendars, and the promise of producing something really beautiful to hang on my wall. But I had it wrong. It’s not that an advent calendar can’t be lovely and cute, but it’s more important that it demonstrates to the user what it means to wait with patience in this age that is passing away.  

But we still have a problem: Advent is the practice of waiting, and we are rubbish at waiting. At the heart of our trouble with waiting is that individual desires and busyness trump any other circumstances. I get frustrated waiting for the ‘little green man’ because there are no cars on the street, and I have places to be. I break my book-buying golden rule because I want the new book, and I don’t have very strong convictions when it comes to books. Peak hour traffic is frustrating because you can think of 20 things that would be a better use of your time.  

Advent teaches us that there is something other than ‘right here, right now’. My plans, my busyness, my impatience; they all need to be broken in the face of the fact that Jesus reigns and is returning. It could be any day now. The practice of Advent forces me to bring this to the front of my mind, in a way that is comforting, but also confronting. It means that in between the 43 Christmas parties and family gatherings, the excessive Christmas shopping, the extreme eating and the steady wave of awkward family conversations with your once-a-year cousins, you can maintain perspective. You can remember that this time of year is about the arrival of new life in this age, and in the age to come. 

Tess Holgate (BD, Moore College) is a writer and editor. Tess takes pleasure
in being a struggling writer; couch surfing at various friends’ houses in inner Sydney, and is always saving her last cent for a good coffee. She thinks her vagabond life makes her writing career more authentic. She blogs at www.tessbelle.wordpress.com.

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