Sunday Week 1 of Advent Year C

As a kid something always happened to me once the autumn clocks changed. Something to do with my own personal checklist of fall: the smell of burning leaves; frost on the corpses of tall grass; headlights yellow in the early dark on the way home from school; the ache in the air as my nose turned blue going from door to door collecting for Guy Fawkes Night; and the promise in the bare woods and sharp sky of coming things. I hardly knew what things … Christmas, certainly, but more than that, something un-nameable, needed and unknown. Being outside to catch the fall of night was intoxicating. So essential to be alone, chilled and braced for who-knows-what wonders and dangers; frozen to the bone and loving it, indulging shivers and putting off, and putting off, the moment when “inside” was unavoidable with its face-tingling warmth and disappointing domesticity. Never quite what I was waiting for, never quite the promise, but maybe if I stayed out just a minute more and strayed just a little longer under the moons intent gaze—maybe it would be. Maybe my hearts silent call might find its echo. Maybe then I’d be able to know what it was I waited for. Or even know I was waiting at all.
There were other times of course when I did know I was waiting. Sick and sleepless and waiting for the light of day to make it all right again. Waiting luxuriously for the first strawberries of the summer. Waiting each day for school to let out and let me out to run wild. Oh and Fridays! Oh and summer coming and weeks of … freedom!
Or Christmas morning—middle of the night really—the agony of waiting, waiting, waiting … for the first barely acceptable moment to rush in and wake my Mum and Dad.
Or the time, trying to get my proud new fountain pen to work, I splashed ink all over, ALL OVER, the fresh new wallpaper … and waited for them to come home from town and all my life to end.
All my childhood seems to have been about waiting. The standard response in our family to the can-I-have questions—Can I have a bike? Can I have a chemistry set?—was always “sure, when you’re twenty one.” And I believed it! I even kept a secret list for a while, a list of all the spoils coming my eventual way. I wonder when I cottoned-on and put aside the list? I wonder when I stopped waiting for those Christmas dawns? I wonder when I grew up and out of waiting?
Maybe the things I waited for I wanted less or less wholeheartedly than I had. Maybe I learned to defer gratification, as they say. But I remember even back then waiting was bittersweet. Some things just are worth the wait. And some things are dreaded beyond the waiting. Even as you can’t wait for waiting to be over you can’t bear to bring on it’s end. Waiting for someone to die—a father, a friend. Waiting for someone to be born—a brother, a fellow child.
Maybe the power of waiting lies in being powerless. These days I know I wait less because I can do more. The gap between desire and doing has shrunk. I do what I want and while I wait for things to work out I work on other wants. I don’t spend very much time under childhood’s waiting stars any more, none in that bare wood. There isn’t the time! But that’s a lie! It’s not time that’s lacking but that kid’s courage. I’ve lost the art of waiting. And learned instead to fear.
This year as the autumn clocks changed something happened to me. In the middle of another little roadblock on the way to writing my dissertation I was talking about my prayer with a friend. I could describe to a tee the nature of my frustration and my ambivalence towards both God and myself. But she asked me, instead, what Jesus was doing in the middle of all my angst. And right away I knew the answer. He is waiting. Sitting there. Waiting. How is he waiting? Calmly. Waiting calmly. What’s he waiting for? He’s waiting for me? He’s waiting for me to wait. Waiting for me to wait with him. What for? Well he hasn’t let on yet… I suspect he doesn’t know either. But, for sure, it involves me letting the gap grow again between desire and hope, wide and wider like it used to be as a kid. And not filling the gap with getting done and plans of getting done and fears of not getting done. Not appeasing the household dissertation gods but waiting, with him, for words.
He tells me he’s never quite lost the art of waiting, the art of wonder, the art of awe. Under a cold sharp sky. Waiting in winter for promises to be kept. Waiting to know what he’s waiting for.
He says he gets it from his Dad: Waiting and promising both. Waiting for a chosen people to choose. Waiting for love to be returned. Waiting for promises to be kept. Waiting for gifts to be received. Waiting and hoping to be believed. God never really grew up.