How to Find the Unexpected, Beautiful Gifts of Waiting

Advent Reflections: the first Sunday.

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. I wait for the Lord, more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning. Psalm 130:5–6

Photo by Gareth Harper on Unsplash

When I was a child we had a Christmas tradition that stockings could be opened in the morning, but the main gifts under the tree weren’t unwrapped until after lunch, and every last cup and fork had been washed up and put away. We arrived at the big day, with all the excitement and build up, only to find that more waiting was going to be required.

The church calendar beings with a whole season of waiting — Advent. We mark time and count down with calendars and candles, anticipating and preparing for what is to come.

Advent brings with it the opportunity to recognise those things in our lives that are coming, but have not yet arrived. Not everything we’re hoping for comes in a few hours, or a few weeks.

And the truth is, waiting is hard.

It’s painful, lonely work to keep living in the ‘not yet.’ It’s hard to watch from the sidelines as everyone else seems to move forward in a blur of activity, while you’re still waiting.

The longer you wait the more acute the ache becomes. It’s agonising to feel like nothing ever changes. In all that stillness and silence, every last one of your questions and doubts floats to the surface like debris in a stagnant pond.

How long, oh Lord? Will you forget me forever? Psalm 13:1

Photo by Inbal Malca on Unsplash

I’ve been thinking about the wise men at the start of this Advent. It’s inappropriate in a way — the timing is wrong. They don’t get a mention in the church calendar until January. They haven’t even entered the story yet.

Shepherds and angels and even animals get to bear witness and celebrate the day of the Saviour’s birth. But not those wise men. The wise men are still on the journey, still on their way, still waiting for their star to rise.

But when they finally arrive, they don’t come empty-handed. They bring gifts with them.

And I think waiting brings us gifts too.

One of them is patience. An uncomfortable, unwanted gift sometimes.

I don’t really care if I’m a patient person, Lord. It’s not a big deal to me. I’d rather just have my miracle now, thanks.

But patience is a beautiful and necessary gift when you get up close. Patience is a slow, deep work that does not hurry things up into something better or easier to swallow. It holds space for things as they are, for the unfulfilled dreams, the frustrations at our broken world, the things yet to be redeemed and the tears still to be wiped away. It makes room for all our experiences without trying to sweep them under the carpet of a fake happy ending that never really touches our pain or answers our deepest questions.

Patience brings with it other gifts, too. It slows us down, opening us up to wiser and kinder ways of being in the world.

I mean, have you ever met someone who’s wise, but not patient? Or kind, but quick to get annoyed?

Never have these gifts been more needed to redeem a world that’s lurching from one outrage to the next, caught in the punishing loop of the next news cycle.

Waiting also brings with it compassion. Recognising the grief of longing in yourself opens your eyes to recognise it in others too. It enables you to touch people who are suffering with authenticity and tenderness, grace and understanding, which is, in itself, a kind of healing.

The work of Advent is to remind us that as we wait, we have hope. Jesus came and is coming again. We live in the time in between — the already and the not yet. It comes with its own kind of tension, but brings its own kind of gifts too. Those that can only come through faith and patience, through working with the pain like a woman in labour.

So we wait it out in a broken and weary world, longing for the day when all our Christmases come at once, trusting that he will make everything beautiful in its time.

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