We are expecting.
But not the kind you think. Those days are done, but they were glorious and exhausting and unforgettable.
The kind of expecting I mean is the waiting and longing and travailing for something that is glorious and exhausting and thrilling and painful and unknown but familiar all at the same time.
And, really, what better time than Advent to wait for a birth?
This morning I sat with our Advent book (I'd told the worship team that each year I'm hit or miss with a daily Advent reading and that this year, by God, I wanted to be more hit than miss). Well, I'd missed yesterday so I started there. I read Luci Shaw's essay for Third Sunday Of Advent. Then I read it again. Then I called Brian into the living room and read it to him in the middle of his banging around to make me a fire and getting up and down to make us tea. I waited until he settled in with the dog on the couch so he could really hear the words because I suspected they were intended for him this morning.
Anticipation lifts the heart. Desire is created to be fulfilled - perhaps not all at once, more likely in slow stages. Isaiah uttered his prophetic words about the renewal of the natural Creation into a wilderness of spiritual barrenness and thirst. For him, and for many other Old Testament seers, the vacuum of dry indifference into which he spoke was not yet a place of fulfillment. Yet the promise of God through this human mouthpiece (and the word "promise" always holds a kind of certainty) was verdant with hope, a kind of greenness and glory. A softening of hard-heartedness, a lively expectation, would herald the coming of Messiah. And once again, in this season of Advent, the same promise for the same Anointed One is coming closer.Without naming the darkness, I knew as I read these words out loud that both of us were fighting whispers of cynical and despairing demonry. Our cozy scene of crackling fire and steaming mugs of tea in a quiet house on a quiet day off is a phony, Kinkadian snapshot to our true tumultuous internal scene. In defiance to the unseen, I kept reading.
Just as in Lent, the season of watchful waiting and preparation for Jesus' dying and the great transformation of his rising, so in Advent, we wait for his coming down to be with us once again. The word Lent is derived from the Middle English lente, meaning "Spring," and in French "lent" means slow. In winter it seems that the season of Spring will never come, and in both Lent and Advent it's the waiting that's hard, the in-between of divine promise and its fulfillment, like a leap across a ditch after take-off and before landing. Most of us find ourselves dangling in this hiatus, which is the interval may seem a waste of time.Harumph...dangling in mid-leap. How about clawing by our bare fingernails after being pushed off a cliff? Seems more like it to me. Again with the inner tormenty whispers. Again with the intrepid reading.
Paul gives us an astonishing understanding of waiting in the New Testament book of Romans, as rendered by Eugene Peterson, "Waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don't see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy." With such motivation, we can wait as we sense God is indeed with us, and at work within us, as he was with Mary as the child within her grew.