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My oldest son has been anticipating his first year deer hunting for a long while. This was his year. We practiced at the shooting range to make sure he was comfortable with the gun. He is a natural. Truthfully, he may shoot better than me. He was able to put six shots into a one inch square at a hundred yards. Preparing for the season, we talked about managing his excitement if the moment came, where to place the shot, how to breathe in the moment. He was ready.
It was decided that the weekend after Thanksgiving would be his time to hunt. We packed our gear, met up with my father, and drove to the family cabin. Luke, my son, couldn’t contain his excitement. As fast as my dad and I unloaded the truck, it wasn’t fast enough. Dogs who catch scraps of food falling off the table don’t eat faster than we ate our lunch of ham and cheese sandwiches. The anticipation was as visible as our blaze orange vests. Within an hour and half of arriving at the cabin, we were settled into the hunting blind waiting and watching for a deer to make its appearance.
Waiting and watching.
The overcast sky blanketed the woods with a grey hue. We used binoculars to peer through the monochromatic landscape for the wag of a tail, the horizontal back of a deer, or the movement of a leg. Our eyes got tired, but the possibility of a deer appearing at any moment kept us focused.
Watching and waiting.
Nothing the first night. We saw two deer the next morning, but nothing shootable. Two more deer made an appearance our final night. After more than thirteen hours over a day and a half in a deer blind we saw only four deer and would be going home unsuccessful. Clown make-up could not have covered up the disappointment on my son’s face. As we walked back to the four wheeler in the dark I asked, “How are you feeling, bud?”
“I’m really bummed. I’ve been waiting for this for a year and now I have to wait for another year.”
That, my friends, is Advent.
Every year we watch and wait for the coming of Christ. We ready our hearts and minds for the impossible possibility of God with us. Not with us in a supernatural, metaphysical sense. As wonderful as that is, our hope during this season is for God with us in a more proximate manner. God near. God tangible. God seen. God with us as a mother is with child. God with us as friends at a table. God with us, gently wiping the tears from our eyes. Every year we anticipate this coming reality. Every year we watch and wait.
We wait and watch.
Advent. Christmas. Another year. Advent. Christmas. And then we wait another year.
Sure, Christ’s second coming can come in April or September as much as December. But every Advent we are reminded that another year of watching and waiting has come and gone and another year of watching and waiting begins. Every moment of our lives are lived in advent—always on the cusp of God’s tangible and effable presence surprising us. Yet, while that possibility exists, we are still waiting.
We are still waiting for justice to be dealt.
We are still waiting for illnesses to be eradicated.
We are still waiting for death to lose its sting.
We are still waiting for our marriage to be restored.
We are still waiting for our kids to be treated kindly by others.
We are a people defined by waiting and watching. I would much rather be a people defined by action and results. As an enneagram 3, my love language is productivity and efficiency. Christ is going to come? Then by all means, let’s prepare the way!
It’s easy to read the words of Isaiah in chapter 40 to prepare the way of the Lord as my responsibility. But Malachi’s use of the phrase is much more apt: “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer echoed Malachi when he wrote, “It is impossible to state too clearly that only the coming Lord Himself can make ready the way for His coming…The end of all preparation of the way of Christ must lie precisely in perceiving that we ourselves can never prepare the way.”
The good and wonderful and also frustrating news of the Gospel is that Jesus is coming regardless of what we do or don’t do. Jesus’ first coming was at a time and in a manner that caught everyone off guard. In the dead of night to an unwed young woman who lived on the margins of the good life, God came among us. Mary didn’t do anything to trigger the divine incarnation in her womb. The shepherds didn’t perform some work the ushered in the angelic proclamation. It was God’s grace that they should be witnesses and participants in God’s coming.
So it is with us. God is coming to us. Our vocation is to watch and wait.
And so, every Advent when one year of watching and waiting ends and another begins, we find ourselves face-to-face with a searing, terrifying question about one of our central confessions: Christ has come, but do we really believe that Christ will come again?