1st Sunday of Advent Sunday November 30th 2014
1st Sunday of Advent
Sunday November 30th 2014
We enter with this 1st Sunday of Advent, 1st Sunday of the liturgical year, into this wonderful season that so many Christians reverence, this season of waiting for the coming of Christ. We place ourselves in the spiritual space of the ancient Israelites, who century after century waited for the coming of the Messiah. We move into their shoes so to speak and we wait with them. Advent is a time when the spirituality of waiting, is on display.
Are there lots of biblical examples for this attitude? Yes. All through the Old Testament, we have stories of people who wait, who are compelled to wait.
Remember the story of Abraham, God promises him…”you will be the father of many nations…. I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies” Genesis 22:17 He gets this promise while he is already an old man. And then through many years he has to …wait… as the promise gets less and less unlikely.
Did his faith waver? Did he have doubts? Maybe, but he waited. And after many many years the promise did come through.
Then there’s the story of Abraham’s great grandson, Joseph, the one with the multi-coloured coat. Joseph had a dream, (Gen 37) that one day his brothers would bow down to him and he would be this great figure.
Does it come through? Yes. But only after a long period of waiting. He is sold by his brothers in slavery, sent to Egypt, there he is falsely accused of sexual misconduct, sent to prison. Day after day, month after month, year after year…for 7 years Joseph waits. Until finally the promise in a very unexpected way is fulfilled.
How about the Israelite people themselves as they are led out of slavery in Egypt by Moses, they triumphantly leave, they cross the res sea…. And then they wait… a couple of weeks? No….40 years, a couple of generations they are made wait before they come into the promised land.
What is it about this spirituality of waiting?
We hate to wait. In London, wherever you are travelling, any time of the day or night, you are likely to be in a queue waiting, a traffic jam, behind a big bus. You are stuck, you want to get some place but you can’t get there. You don’t know what the problem is or when it will be solved. And there you are forced to wait. We hate that. We hate waiting in doctors offices, you have an appointment at 10 am and its now 10:45. We hate to wait.
So how come waiting is so important in the bible and in God’s plan?
We and God are on very different timetables. Who is God? God is the Lord of all of space and time. God stands outside of time and governs the whole of the cosmos. Our days and weeks and years, that’s just an instance for God. What seems like an intolerable amount of time for us.. in God’s plan, with God’s intentions, that means very little. We are on different timetables.
Read the first letter of Saint Peter, you’ll find this. “A thousand years for you are like a day….”2 Peter 3:8. Our measure of time is not God’s measured time. A well-known spiritual writer summed up the spiritual life with this phrase; “Your life is not about you”. It’s your life but it’s not about you. It’s about God’s purposes.
Why would God make us wait for certain things, as He made Abraham, Moses and Joseph wait?
Saint Augustine wrote a letter to a woman named Proba. He says to her;“You know,sometimes, God doesn’t answer prayers right away. Sometimes he makes us wait. Why? Because our hearts are not yet prepared to receive what God wants to give us”….waiting, he goes on to explain makes “our hearts expand”.
That’s a splendid insight worth meditating on. We want something, we ask for it. And God makes us wait. What does that do? It causes the heart, as it were, to expand, to grow and deepen. How long does God make us wait? Perhaps until the heart is sufficiently expanded to receive what he wants to give us. What if we got everything we want from God the minute we asked for it? We would never perhaps appreciate the gift. We’d never be able to take it in. Our hearts were not sufficiently expanded. Maybe that’s one reason why we wait.
Another reason, and the story of Joseph the dreamer really brings this to mind; Maybe we want something. Maybe we do desire it sufficiently, but we are just not ready in our lives to handle it. When Joseph had the dream, about his brother bowing down to him, he was a kind of arrogant self-absorbed kid. If that had come through at that moment Joseph would have undoubtly abused that authority and power. What did he need? He needed this long period, of discipline, suffering, that readied him so that when he did receive that gift, now he could use it well. Which indeed he did, when the brothers bowed down to him. He could respond to them in a gentle and compassionate way. Maybe you wait because you are not yet ready to receive the gifts that God wants to give you.
There is a very important lesson in waiting. Impatience is a non-acceptance of our, other people`s and the world`s imperfections, limitedness. God, God`s love, God`s mercy, the presence of our loved ones, is only available right now, yesterday is gone, tomorrow is not here yet. All we have is right now and yet we are so rarely there. We are either licking wounds and ruminating mistakes from the past or plotting and planning the future. The ego hates the “Now” because it has to take a back seat as we are present to reality. Being patient makes us live in the present moment. Being really present to the moment makes most of our worries vanish.
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