Christmas is a season of waiting

This is the Christian season of advent. It's unique because it isn't a season in itself as much as it is a threshold onto something else. As such it is a time of waiting, a waiting for the holy event of Christ's birth. It's appointed saint is John the Baptist who is perfect for the season because he is herald of the event, not the main event himself.

John says he is "voice," and that's all. His sense of himself is this: "I have the sneaking feeling that there is somebody who is going to come after me. Someone who might even be among us today. Who it is, I do not know. But I do know this, I am not worthy of fiddling with his shoelaces."

That's it. That's all he knows. He's kind of a Rosa Parks. If you were ever at a meeting with her you know that she was not much of a speaker; but she had a wonderful presence about her.

She often said that her detractors were wrong in saying that she was just so tired from her long day of work she was not able to stand and move to the rear of the bus as the driver ordered. Yes, she was tired, but she was actually much more tired from 40 years of subhuman treatment, not from a single day's work. And what did she do? Her arrest aroused a man who could speak, who was born to it, and he summoned millions. There was something in the wind; something the time and the season was ripe for, and Rosa Parks felt it in her bones. She could not do it herself, but she could be the midwife for this great movement of the Spirit.

These words of T.S. Eliot from his poem, "East Coker" could have been written with John and Rosa in mind:

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope

For hope would be hope for the wrong thing

John had to wait, and I imagine John wasn't any better at waiting than we are.

The trouble with waiting is that it reminds us of our limits &

we'd rather be out doing, driving, buying, dealing, making things happen. We are like another great man of our century, Thomas Edison, who once said:

"Everything comes to him who hustles while he waits."

And it is true, things DO come to those who hustle, but the question is, do those things the unreflective "hustle" for matter in the last analysis?

Barbara Brown Taylor, reflecting on this passage in John's gospel has said, "Our waiting is not nothing &

It is something &

a very big something &

because people tend to be shaped by whatever it is they are waiting for."

That's a truly profound observation. People do tend to be shaped by whatever it is they are waiting for.

So, what are you waiting for? More importantly, how is THAT shaping your life?

Are you waiting for certainty, for healing, for love, for recognition, for a pile of money to drop in your lap? Or retirement. Or peace and justice on earth?

Maybe you're waiting for the kids to leave home; or the grand-kids to leave home. How is it shaping you; what you do and what you don't choose to do?

Jane Goodall's childhood is as good an illustration of how we are shaped by our waiting as anyone's &

she's the woman who lived among the chimpanzees, you know. I love her story:

As a four-year-old, I already had the markings of a true naturalist. I spent a lot of time at my grandmother's farm. One of my tasks was to collect the hen's eggs. As the days passed I became more and more puzzled. Where on a chicken was an opening big enough for an egg to come out? Apparently no one explained this properly so I must have decided to find out for myself. In followed a hen onto one of the little wooden henhouses &

but of course, as I crawled after her she gave horrified squawks and hurriedly left. My young brain must have then worked out that I would have to be there first. So I crawled into another henhouse and waited, hoping a hen would come in to lay. And there I remained, crouched silently in one corner, concealed in some straw, waiting. At last a hen came in scratched about in some straw, and settled herself on her makeshift nest just in front of me. I must have kept very still or she would have been disturbed, presently the hen half-stood and I saw a round white object gradually protruding from the feathers between her legs. Suddenly with a plop, the egg landed on the straw. With clucks of pleasure the hen shook her feathers, nudging the egg with her beak, and left. It is quite extraordinary how clearly I remember that whole sequence of events. Filled with excitement I squeezed out after her and ran home. It was almost dark. I had been in that stuffy henhouse for nearly four hours. I was oblivious of the fact that no one had known where I was, and that the whole household had been searching for me. They had even called the police to report me missing. Yet despite her worry, when my mother, still searching, saw the excited little girl rushing toward the house, she did not scold me. She noticed my shining eyes and sat down to listen to the story of how a hen lays an egg: the wonder of that moment when an egg finally fell to the ground.

More and more people I speak to that are in middle-age are still wondering what they might do when they "grow up." Maybe that is a Boomer thing, or maybe it is a bit true of every generation, except that today we are more liable to move from one vocation to another. So many people are waiting for something.

Whatever it is that our hearts yearn for, chances are that it has something to do with our vision of what it would mean for us to be made whole. We may be right about what will make us whole, or we might be wrong; but one big difference between us and John the Baptist is that he KNEW he did not know. He was just waiting in the dark for this light. He was willing to just to wait, knowing no details. He is the one who teaches us how to wait without hope, because hope would be hope for the wrong thing. Happy advent.

Scott Dalgarno is pastor of Westminster Church in Eugene

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