There are lots of different ways to wait. Scripture has over 162 verses that describe all sorts and manners of waiting. I suspect you are familiar with a good portion of the different kinds of waiting – after all, we all wait. In the military, the common experience was to “hurry up and wait.” We all wait. It is a common experience, and yet there are differences in waiting. There is a difference between expectant, on the edge-of-your-seat waiting; the patient “it will happen in its own good time and there is nothing I can do about it” waiting; and the waiting of dread, tedium, and despair. I think our “are we ever gonna’ get there waiting” because a flight to Europe can take 8+ hours, would fall on deaf ears for our ancestors who traveled months on boats to reach these distant shores. But things change, the world has sped up. Our culture demands fast food, fast cars, and fast answers. We are accustomed to having a world of information at our fingertips with laptops and smart phones. We expect pills that will immediately take the pain away…yesterday. We are accustomed to getting it now and do not like to wait.
I have been reading the biography of Fr. Teilhard de Chardin, SJ. An episode in 1922 found resonance with me this Advent. He was waiting to defend his thesis in paleontology before a panel of eminent scientists who frankly wondered if de Chardin, clearly a deeply religious person, could objectively fulfill the requirements of science. At the same time, de Chardin was also waiting to see if the official church would have problems with his thesis. He had been greatly influenced by “Creative Evolution,” written by the French Philosopher, Henri Bergson. It was a book that the Vatican had placed on its list of Forbidden books, yet it was a book that inspired Teilhard to learn more about the theory of evolution–and in his study , he discovered a scientific justification for the unity that he felt he shared as a human being with the entire world of living creatures. A unity that was deeply Christocentric.
His merger of the theory of evolution and his Christocentric view of the nature of creation lead him to a great Advent insight about time and the manner of waiting on the part of God. De Chardin grew in his appreciation for the amount of time that God waited simply for the emergence of life on this planet earth, let alone the emergence of humankind. He was particularly struck by so many passages in the Hebrew scripture (Old Testament), especially Isaiah, in which the prophetic voices proclaim an “evolved” world in which deserts bloom, there is no more illness, and all peoples stream to Jerusalem. Teilhard de Chardin knew the eons of time needed for life on the planet to evolve, the time needed for humans to develop the capacity to reason and contemplate the coming of a savior – and all the while God waited.
Advent puts us in touch with a deep spiritual reality that we too often neglect. The things of God take time. Holy Scripture is not a fast food meal, but an experience to be savored. Prayer is not a quick fix but an invitation to be changed from within over time. Forgiveness doesn’t happen overnight but can be quite a journey. Feeling at home in a local church takes time, building relationships that last. A deeper relationship with God is not something we can download from the “heavenly internet.”
During Advent, we are called to become a people who learn to wait, to prepare a manger of the heart for Christ to be born anew – all the while praising God who has long awaited our arrival to his loving embrace.