I suck at waiting for things. I want gifts opened (whether I’m giving or receiving) as soon as possible. The joy of anticipation is often lost on me. I can certainly blame some of that on my ADHD - the moment is where I want to be. So Advent is a bit of a struggle for me; I get the idea of waiting and anticipating the Messiah, but I am not at all actually good at living in that anticipation. I keep finding myself peeking ahead to Christmas and the payoff: God among us.
The reality of a God amongst his people is hardly something I can separate from my understanding of faith as a midwest, cradle-Lutheran, church nerd. A consequence of that understanding is that, without effort, I struggle to process the idea of being a person without God; the concept of an absent God is practically foreign to me which makes Advent a weird thing to fully hop in to.
When I struggle to connect to a traditional understanding of something, I try to find a method that works for me. This allows me to still participate in the communal life of the church.
In order to find something to anticipate and wait for during Advent, I’ve shifted my focus the last few years. I don’t try to find a longing and waiting for God to enter the world amongst his people. Instead, I focus on my longing on the church.
Not as Savior or Messiah
As agent of justice.
As distributor of love.
As giver of mercy and grace.
To then place my waiting on the church requires me to remember the words from Isaiah’s fourth chapter:
3A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
These verses are the words that frame our understanding of Advent. They aren’t words of patience or passivity; they are words of action. The prophet does not call us to tell of a future that we’ll someday inherit and Jesus will be pretty stoked. We are called to change the world and the church now. To be actually doing something in the interim - not saying “someday this church might be.”
In Advent, I hear the prophets calling us to disrupt the the world, the church, and ourselves - to give in to the chaos Christ calls and drags us into - rather than buying into promises of privilege and security. The church I hear Jesus describe (taking care of the hungry, thirsty, stranger, prisoner - focusing on the least among us) requires an intentional effort. A church in our image worries about making itself feel better, safer and more comfortable; it creates itself if we don’t intentionally avoid it.
Disrupting the world means not being afraid of losing my privilege or angering people by pointing out how systems that benefit me harm others. To me, this is the truest way to demonstrate trust and hope in God: that by giving my benefit so others might be closer to justice and equality, God will continue to provide.
So I wait. But I don’t wait simply hoping the world changes; I have to engage in an active anticipation, seeking to help create the world and church Christ calls us to. Actively working towards a world and church that values the experience of all people isn’t a small task. But Jesus never said it would be.
Ray Gentry @raygentrythe4th is a guitar playing Worship Director from South Dakota and an ELCA Lutheran.