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Advent invites us into a season of waiting: four weeks of waiting for the Light to pierce our darkness; four weeks of waiting for Life to overcome death and for the powers of this world to be overturned; four weeks of waiting for Truth to be revealed; four weeks of waiting to celebrate God-with-us, the One who is Life and Light and Truth.
Most of us do not wait naturally, and the capacity for waiting is severely diminished by life in the digital age. Every so often I surprise myself when I realize that I’m frustrated because the printer took about one minute longer to work than I’m accustomed to. God forbid should my computer slow down when I’m writing feverishly to meet a deadline! At this time of year, I expect one-click shopping, websites that have stored mailing addresses, and no long lines. But at what expense? How has my daily life been diminished by these small but significant erasures of waiting?
When I was a kid, I waited a lot more. I waited in long lines in lots of places. I waited through television commercials; now I fast forward through them on Tivo. Christmas shopping entailed pouring over the catalogs from Sears and Penney’s months in advance, placing orders by snail mail (then known simply as mail), and waiting weeks for packages to arrive. I didn’t want to wait. I also didn’t want to lose its hopefulness. I knew through experience that anticipation, excitement, waiting, and joy were intermingled and interdependent.
The church calendar forms particular virtues and dispositions in us. Advent, if we submit to its lessons, forms us as a waiting people and therefore a hopeful people. HOPE and waiting go together. Christians wait expectantly and prayerfully. We wait for God to do that which we cannot. We wait for healing and justice and peace. We hope for shalom in its absence.
Some kinds of waiting can be excruciating: waiting for the diagnosis and treatment of a mysterious illness; waiting for severed communities of faith to be re-membered; waiting for a lost child to return home; and waiting for neighbors (in the broad sense) to say “no” to the violence perpetuated by racism.
Freddie Gray’s family must wait for justice in a system that erodes hope and trust daily. Gray, a 25 year old black man, was killed last April in a police van. The medical examiner ruled his death a homicide, a result of a “rough ride,” that is, being thrown about violently in the police van by erratic driving while shackled. Yesterday a judge declared a mistrial in a case against one of the police officers charged in this case.
How does Freddie Gray’s family wait for justice? What about the families of other black men who have been gunned down? How does my friend, who wonders what violence will eventually be inflicted upon her son, wait? How do those of us who want to be white allies wait?
Whatever the answer, it is clear that we must work as we wait, knowing that our work, at best, is a participation in God’s work. We work in hopes that we are participating in God’s present ministry of justice, healing, and reconciliation. Hopeful Christian waiting rules out apathy. The best place to wait today may be in the streets of Baltimore, MD, where Freddie Gray’s life was snuffed out.
We pray as we wait, too. We pray for light and life and truth, especially in their absence. In this, God’s words to us through the psalmists become our words given back to God in longing and protest:
Give ear to my words, O Lord, consider my sighing. Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray. In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.
You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil; with you the wicked cannot dwell. The arrogant cannot stand in your presence; you hate all who do wrong. You destroy those who tell lies; bloodthirsty and deceitful men the Lord abhors.
But I, by your great mercy, will come into your house; in reverence will I bow down toward your holy temple. Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness because of my enemies–make straight your way before me.
Not a word from their mouth can be trusted; their heart is filled with destruction. Their throat is an open grave; with their tongue they speak deceit. Declare them guilty, O God! Let their intrigues be their downfall. Banish them for their many sins, for they have rebelled against you.
But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. For surely, O Lord, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield. (Psalm 5)