Why We Must Wait: An Advent Reflection

With Advent upon us, it is time for us to reclaim, now more than ever, the discipline of waiting and delayed gratification.

Sunday marked the beginning of Advent, the liturgical season observed by many Christians as a period of waiting and preparation for the Nativity of Jesus. This season begins four Sundays before Christmas and concludes on Christmas. The hanging of greens, adorning sanctuaries and wearing vestments of purple, and lighting the Advent wreath candles in order to move from darkness to light are key components in Advent observation. All of this is in anticipation of the celebration of the birth of Jesus, a birth that people anxiously awaited then and a symbolic birth we should anxiously await now. But some may ask, “Why must we wait for something that has already happened? Why exist in symbolic darkness for a time in order to celebrate that which was revealed some 2000 years ago? Why is this relevant to our time?” I suggest that we must wait in order to reclaim the wonder of the light that was brought into this world.

Earlier this year, during an Ash Wednesday service at a large Baptist church, I looked forward to ushering in the season of penitence with somber worship and a penitent message. Ash Wednesday is supposed to remind us of our finitude and it plunges us into a season of penitence, and the journey into the wilderness with Christ. But as I sat in that Ash Wednesday service, I was jolted from somber reflection with songs of joy and a sermon celebrating victory. Not a moment in the service–besides the impartation of ashes which concluded the service–was spent ushering people into the dry season ahead of them because the church couldn’t not praise. On one hand I understood the church’s inability to squelch their praise. It’s a church that has seen many trials and tribulation and its membership are a part of the resilient race in this country who can’t not praise because of how far they’ve come by faith. Why would they want to launch themselves into a period solemnity? But on the other hand, I desired for this congregation to withhold their praise and shouts of victory in order to rightfully claim it at the end of the Lenten season. In doing this, they would truly walk with their redeemer and taste the sweetness of victory because they had made the journey by way of symbolically situating themselves on Ash Wednesday as sojourners with Jesus. This too is our call during the season of Advent except that we are not sojourners with Jesus this time around but sojourners with a generation of people who were awaiting his arrival. People who heard a particular prophecy about the coming of Jesus and who were waiting and preparing for his arrival. People who didn’t have Christmas gift shopping, parties to attend, and a plethora of “holiday” distractions, but who were watching and waiting for him. I imagine that their wait was one of wonder mixed with skepticism fueled by the rumors of Mary, a virgin, who was impregnated by the Holy Spirit with the son of God. How unbelievable that had to be then and how unbelievable we should consider it now in order to rekindle the wonder of it all. Awesome wonder is what this season is about.

Yesterday in church I was reminded of how in danger we are of losing that wonder because we are so familiar with the stories that tell of the coming of Jesus. Some of us know it like the back of our hands and it has become so commonplace that the narrative of a young virgin impregnated by the Holy Spirit and giving birth to the son of God seems just as plausible as a man getting pregnant and giving birth. Some of us are no longer moved by the story because we’ve spent years with it in our churches, in our seminaries and Bible colleges, and in our homes, but we force ourselves to be moved just a few days before Christmas because that’s what we’ve been trained most to do. Many wind down and reflect as they start to wrap up their Christmas shopping, place the last few gifts under the tree, and bake the last batch of cookies. A reflection on the true significance of this moment on the Christian liturgical calendar is sometimes left as an afterthought to what is given top billing on the calendar of capitalism. But we must wait, and wait longer than a few days, to acclimate ourselves to the coming of Jesus. When we take hold of the season of waiting that Advent is, we give ourselves the opportunity to experience the wonder of every occasion that lead up to the birth of Jesus.

When we read the Gospel narratives that foretell of Jesus’ birth, of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, of the Magnificat, we must stop ourselves from breezing through it quickly because we’ve heard it all before. Instead we should be held captive by every word as if we were hearing it for the first time and as if we may never hear it again. When we repeat the refrain, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear,” we are implicating ourselves as those in captivity in need of a release from our self-imposed exile. Given the capitalism and consumerism that has marked this season—and the violence it has wrought—we are now, more than ever, in the need of the discipline of waiting. We must wait in order to restore the wonder of this blessed season we are in, a season that shines light into dark places and gives many hope. We must wait, not only for ourselves but for every person who has yet to experience the great hope that many of us know so well. We must wait so that we refresh ourselves in the wondrous love to come over receiving it as an entitlement that we might take for granted. We must wait, because in waiting we are forced to slow down, and in slowing down we gain perspective on the significance of this season which brings us back to wonder. The awesome wonder of the coming of Jesus is what this season is about, just wait for it.

 

About the author, Nicole Symmonds

Nicole Symmonds is a newly-minted Master of Divinity joining the droves of people with MDiv behind their name who aren’t planning to minister—at least not from behind a pulpit. She views writing as a type of ministry and is happy to have the opportunity to return to her first vocational love while she continues to discern God's call upon her life. Nicole currently resides in Atlanta where she works as a freelance writer and journalist focusing on issues in religion and spirituality in the black experience, sexuality and spirituality, and pop culture and entertainment.
  1. I agree that we need to slow down and reflect on the wonder of the Incarnation, and its purpose. The Word becomes flesh and dwells among us, in order to redeem us back to God! And it IS a wondrous thing, this incarnation of the Living Word of God! However, I think we forget that Advent is not just about the first arrival of the Messiah–it’s also about the SECOND COMING OF THE MESSIAH! We REMEMBER the first Advent and we ANTICIPATE the Second Advent, the arrival of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords–when His Kingdom permeates the entire created order and the “new heavens and new earth” replace what is here and now.
    I am not convinced that we should abandon our “Hallelujahs” or our joyous shouts during either the Advent season or the Lenten season. We CAN be more reflective during Advent
    and we CAN impose ashes at Lent as a reminder of our own mortality and why we should “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.” However, EVERY SUNDAY is in fact, a “little Easter”–a weekly reminder of the RESURRECTED Jesus Who conquered sin and death. To NOT rejoice on Sundays during either Advent or Lent is to live AS IF the Resurrection–and PENTECOST–did not take place. As the late Belgian cardinal Leon Suenens stated: “We are an Easter people, and “Alleluia” is our song!” The very fact that we meet “on the first day of the week” is a calendrical acknowledgement of the day that the Lamb of God broke the chain that bound all humanity–the fear of death. As Christians, we actually live in “the eighth day”–the time in which eternity broke through temporality and started the process of reconciling all creation to YAHWEH. We possess the Holy Ghost, and because the Holy Ghost possesses US, we have the treasure of eternal life residing in these fragile bodies of clay NOW. To a certain extent, we have found ways to IGNORE the “calendar of capitalism” and even the secular world shows some signs of doing just that–you see many more sacred-themed cards available in stores; you can purchase more creches/Nativity scenes that were not available even ten years ago; more sacred movies and biblically oriented films are available to watch on TV or purchase in DVD format; sacred choral music can be heard on classical radio stations more frequently during December; there are more festive worship services/experiences available at more varieties of churches, including worship on Christmas Day; you can participate in more community caroling events and any number of ” Messiah Sing-ins”; people are visiting friends and relatives during the two week Christmas season; the Christmas season is now being fully extended beyond “first night” and Watchnight services all the way to EPIPHANY, January 6th, which commemorates the visit of the Wise Men. Families and folks are even keeping their festive decorations and lights up long past January 6th–so reluctant are we now to let go of the joy, the family closeness, and all the profound beauty of the Advent and Christmas seasons. Typically, we’re soooo busy during Advent, that we really only begin to feel fully festive AFTER Christmas Day, and we enjoy the celebration of Jesus’ birth as those who fully live in the “power of His resurrection.” Our churches could use a greater VARIETY of sacred music to express the wonder of the Incarnation–so that we’re hearing and singing more than just “verse 1 and 4″ of only 10 songs or hymns for Advent-Christmas. And YES, we should sing ALL THE VERSES to even
    those beloved old Christmas carols, so that we get the FULL MESSAGE of the composers
    and comprehend the DEPTH of what the Incarnation means to us–the PEOPLE OF THE RESURRECTION!!

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