Practicing Waiting while Anticipating Celebration
As a child, the wait for Christmas was excruciating at times. I couldn’t stop counting down the days until I could finally open up my presents. In fact, on any given day in December, you might have found me snooping around the house trying to get an early peek at the gifts.
This Christmas season, we are not counting down the days until we can open gifts, we are counting down the days until the end of this pandemic. In fact, we’ve been waiting all year for something good to come, but have been met with many disappointments. From the pandemic, to racial violence, to eating Thanksgiving dinner alone, this year has been especially painful. However, by now, you’ve seen the good news that a vaccine may not be too far off. So, we continue to wait, but now with even more anticipation.
Practicing waiting while anticipating celebration is what the advent season is all about. Advent is a 4-week liturgical season in the Christian tradition that is considered a time for waiting for and anticipating the coming of Jesus. It’s a time when Christians around the world remember that they are part of a story that is filled with waiting. Throughout the Bible are stories of people waiting for things to get better. Time and again, they cry out, “How Long, O Lord?” From Abraham and Sarah waiting to have his first child, to the people of Israel waiting to come out of exile, to Mary anticipating the birth of Christ, advent reminds us that waiting is to be expected, but waiting will not go on forever. There will one day be celebration again.
Most of us are not especially good at waiting for what we want, but finding small ways to intentionally practice waiting can help us to wait in a way that is good for us and our neighbors. As I waited day after day for Christmas morning, one thing that helped sooth the painful wait was eating a piece of chocolate from my advent calendar each night after dinner. Each chocolate, despite how cheap it tasted, was a taste of the good that was to come on Christmas day. It was a reminder that this wait will one day culminate in celebration.
Stanley Hauerwas, Professor Emeritus of Divinity and Law at Duke University, published a small book a couple of years ago entitled, The Character of Virtue: Letters to a Godson. The book contains sixteen letters that Hauerwas wrote to his Godson on the anniversary of his baptism from 2002 through 2017. In each letter he addresses a different virtue that he believes is necessary to living out one’s baptism. In 2006, he wrote about the virtue of patience and said, “Practice is just another word for patience.” Advent provides an opportunity to keep on practicing that virtue.
One of the tangible practices of advent is the lighting of candles. There are five candles lit in total. One on each of the 4 Sundays leading up to Christmas and the final one on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. As the wax begins to drip on each candle, the anticipation builds for the day when all five are burning. It may not seem significant, but this small gesture of lighting candles reminds Christians of their deep belief that Jesus is the light of the world. As each light is lit, the wait becomes more bearable and the excitement for celebration grows.
I wonder if we all need to find tangible ways to practice our waiting this holiday season? Whether it’s through the lighting of candles, the eating of chocolate, or taking stock of the small moments of joy in a day, as we practice waiting, we are cultivating the virtue of patience that helps us bear the weight of waiting. Some days we may feel stronger than others, but everyday we are one day closer to celebration.
Peace be upon you,
Chaplain Travis Jamieson