Advent is about longing and waiting for God’s promise to come to fruition.
I hate waiting!
I am so impatient; my perseverance vanishes like the morning mist when I’m called to wait for something! I feel called to attend to my longings this Advent and learn in deeper ways how to “wait upon the Lord” (Gen 49:18; Ps 27:14; 31:24; 38:15). I have found a few readings helpful to me, and I’ve posted the most poignant a little further below.
The heart of my reflections so far this Advent is that my waiting is a kind of sitting with my longings and desires (which is often a deeply painful prospect) so that they create a space for God in much the same way that a stable was made ready for Jesus.
We don’t usually think of the stable as being God’s first choice; we think of it as an unfortunate backup, an embarrassing “plan B” for the King of Kings. What if the stable was God’s choice all along? What if he scoured the smelliest, plainest animal shelters in Bethlehem, looking for just the right place for the object of his love to be born? What if the stable, with all the smell and dingy glory, was essential to the revelation of God that shone through Immanuel? I happen to think so. I happen to believe that God wanted it this way, and it is incredibly good news for those of us whose lives take on the form of a plain stable far more than a shiny palace. God really, truly moves into the slums where we live! This is offensive and foolish to our minds, to the extreme; but the offense is necessary if we are to wake up out of our worldly stupors. We have views of God, of glory and what it means to be human that inevitably get in the way of God and his saving work.
As you reflect on Advent and what Jesus has for you, imagine what your “stable” would look like; each of us has our own unique piles of crap filling the pens. Sexual abuse; family dysfunction that just never quits; meaningless work, empty marriages and barren wombs; regrets and terrifying experiences, and so it goes on and on. Each of us have broken hinges and shattered windows and off-centered pictures of our loves and loved ones. Our stables are always more humble than we think!
I am often embarrassed of my stable. I try to hang lights on it and only highlight the strong beams and solid parts of it, when most of it is actually falling apart and covered with mold and rotten wood. God comes to the falling down parts, the smelliest corners and least attractive parts of my stable and takes up residence with a gentle but firm, “I am here because I love you.”
“I will make all things new.”
“I will save you from your sins, and be with you forever. Dare to receive this love of mine.”
May your Advent be filled with the radical humility and intense longing that drove the Most High God to become the lowliest possible form of “us.” He is that good. Let us seek him above all.
To that end, some spiritual masters who have helped my thinking:
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” (Mk 10:51 NIV; cf. Matt. 20:32)
“Our spiritual life depends on his perpetual coming to us, far more than on our going to him. Every time a channel is made for him he comes; every time our hearts are open to him he enters, bringing a fresh gift of his very life, and on that life we depend. We should think of the whole power and splendor of God as always pressing in upon our small souls.” (Evelyn Underhill, source unknown)
“To live as a child of God is to live with longing, aching for a love that is never quite within our grasp. As attachments lighten and idols fall, we will enjoy increasing freedom. At the same time our hearts will feel an even greater purer ache. That pain is one that never leaves us.” (Gerald May, source unknown)
“People who wait have received a promise that allows them to wait. They have received something that is at work in them, like a seed that has started to grow. This is very important. We can only really wait if what we are waiting for has already begun for us.” (Henri Nouwen, “A Spirituality of Waiting,” in Weavings; quoted in A Guide to Prayer For All Who Walk With God, p. 24)
“The spirituality of Advent is about carrying tension without prematurely resolving it so that we do not short circuit the fullness that comes from respecting love’s rhythms. . . . To give birth to what’s divine requires the slow patience of gestation.” (Ron Rolheiser, OMI, Daybreaks: Daily Reflections for Advent and Christmas, 5)
“Advent celebrates human longing. It asks us not to deny our longings but to enter them, deepen them, and widen them until we undergo a metamorphosis. Longing shapes the soul in many ways, particularly by helping create the space within us where God can be born. Longing leads us to the stable and the manger of Bethlehem. It carves out a trough into which God can be born.” (Rolheiser, 6)