Advent: Watching and Waiting


Waiting…and watching…

How do you deal with waiting? Are there things that you find especially hard to wait for?

My car wouldn’t start. I’m sitting in the grocery store parking lot, wanting to get home with the groceries I had just purchased, but when I turn the key, all I got was a clicking sound. So I called  a car service, and they said they’d send somebody. The only problem – it would be an hour before they arrived. An hour?!? I had to sit in my car and wait for them to arrive. An hour hour never felt so long.

Waiting – we really don’t like to wait. We have microwave ovens to cook our food in minutes; we have”on demand” movies so we can watch the movie right now; every fast food restaurant has a drive-thru window so the food is even faster. There’s instant breakfast, and instant coffee, and instant rice, instant milk, instant noodles, instant potatoes. Snail mail has been replaced by instant messaging.

Photo credit: Tripp via Flickr

It’s not that these things are necessarily bad. Sometimes they might be a great good. Every parent has cause to rejoice over the many products that are quick and easy to prepare for a hungry baby! But when we have no choice but to wait, we are ill-prepared for it. Most of the really good things in life require waiting. Every parent must wait those nine long months before a son or daughter is born. It takes four (long!) years to earn a college diploma. The big trip you planned – you have to wait until next summer before you board the plane. Wait you must!

As Christian disciples, the goods we wait for – character, answers to prayer, a word from God, the salvation of friends and family, the very return of our Lord Jesus – sublime goods – often require waiting a lifetime.

Advent is a season where we can practice, even for a short while, waiting. And a slightly different word will help us with waiting: watch. When we put watch together with wait, we begin to see that waiting is not a passive thing. When we watch as we wait, we do those things that make us ready for whatever comes our way.

So – how to watch well?

  • Being prepared. The women of the parable of the 5 wise and 5 foolish virgins (Matt 25) show us the importance of being prepared. The five wise virgins have enough oil to get them through the night. When the bridegroom arrives, they can arise, trim their lamps, and go out to meet him. As you wait, what “oil” do you need to stock up on to make it to the end?
  • Expectancy vs. expectations. If we let them, our expectations might cause us to miss the very thing we are watching for! Our expectations make us believe that things can only happen in one way. When that doesn’t happen, we are disappointed. But chances are, we were looking in the wrong direction. Living in expectancy means that we believe that God will act, but we know that his action might come in a surprising way, so we are open to whatever it is that comes – not just what we expect. After all, who expected that God would show up as a helpless baby?
  • Watch out! Be on your guard! As we wait, there will be things that come our way that we were not looking for, don’t need, and are not good for us. Jesus tells his disciples to “Watch out for the [teaching] of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matt 16). We will hear things that are not true, things that are lies. We need to be prepared to reject those things! A lie we are especially susceptible to when we are waiting is the lie, “God doesn’t really love you.” Waiting for long periods of time tempts us to doubt that God does care for us. As you wait, be assured that God does love you and will fulfill his promises to you!
  • Keep doing what you’re doing. It might be tempting to drop every thing, press your face to the window, and gaze into the distance waiting for that promise to arrive. You might be tempted to talk about nothing else. Every waking moment, every thought and effort, we may believe, needs to be devoted to the coming fulfillment. But it turns out that waiting and watching well most often means continuing to do what we were already doing. The shepherds were “keeping watch over their flocks by night” – that is, they were doing their job. Peter and Andrew, James and John were fishing when the call came. This is God’s modus operandi: He shows up in the mundane, the everyday, the unspectacular. Doing what you’re already doing – writing papers, waiting tables, going to class, feeding the baby, washing dishes – a whole host of boring, everyday tasks – could very well be the place where God shows up. Are you watching for him?

Being prepared, living in expectancy, being on guard, and living faithfully in the things we have already been given are some of the ways we can live a life of watching well. May we practice well this Advent the disciplines of waiting and watching.

How do you deal with waiting? Are there things that you find especially hard to wait for?

12/5/2012 8:15 AM Editors note: For ESN’s developing Advent archive click here.

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Charlie Clauss

Charlie Clauss works with Intervarsity's Graduate Student and Faculty Ministry in Minnesota and the Dakotas.

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    Joe Whitchurch commented on November 29, 2011 Reply

    Another excellent article, Charlie. Appreciated your appreciation of convenience and perspective and practical suggestions on waiting well. When I think of the prophecy candle I sometimes wonder if moderns and modern Christians are even vaguely aware of what they are watching for. Prophecy either being shunned or in the realm of the quirkish. I compiled some lists of such regarding the first Advent along with a Narnian Beaver lament here Thanks for making us think, wait, and wonder.

    Micheal Hickerson commented on November 30, 2011 Reply

    Thanks, Charlie. I wish I were better at waiting. Yesterday was my younger daughter’s birthday, and she had been waiting extremely well. Here’s what she told me one night last week at bedtime:

    “I like waiting. When you wait, it’s almost here. But when it’s here, it’s gone and you have to wait a long time for it to come back.”

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