Waiting is a bit of a recurring theme on my blog. It's a theme that comes to the fore between Ascension Day and Pentecost, when Jesus told his disciples to go and WAIT in Jerusalem. He was none too specific about how long to wait, or even what to wait for. "Power from on high" was the mysterious promise. But wait they did, and when the curious promise was fulfilled, they were in no doubt that it had happened.
Lent is also about waiting, but not so much waiting FOR as waiting ON - putting the rest of life on hold to wait in a consciously devoted way for the presence of God to pervade the soul. Lent waiting has a wilderness quality to it - a deprivation of the things of ordinary life in order to become one with God.
Advent waiting has a subtly different touch to it. This is a waiting with hope and anticipation for God to break into our world. According to Christian tradition, the first waiting is for the Messiah or Saviour to enter the world - a waiting and anticipation reflected in the promises of God to the Patriarchs, the dreams of the prophets, and the prayers of generations of saints. The second waiting is for the return of Christ in glory, heralding the end of this era. Advent is waiting for Christmas, but it's also waiting for the great maranatha.
Waiting for the Messiah was not a passive waiting, but an aching, a longing, a reaching-towards. I love the words of Simeon, a very, very old man who had spent his whole life waiting and longing for the salvation of Israel. Did he know what he was waiting for? Probably not, in exact terms. But somehow when he saw the child Jesus he just knew that this, at last, was what he had been waiting for. "Now, Lord," said Simeon, "now I can die happy. Now I've seen the thing I've been waiting for all my life. Now I am fulfilled." (Luke 2: 25-32)
There is a paradox in this that sums up so much of our faith - the drive to reach out, move forwards and make something happen is constrained by the need to wait on, wait for, the initiative of God's spirit. You can't force the work of God. Neither can you go to sleep on the job. I suppose that gives us our model of waiting for Christ in glory too - although here, perhaps like waiting for Pentecost, or for death, the promise has very little tangible shape to it because it is a matter of waiting for something beyond our experience. We have no categories or pictures with which to describe what it means that Christ will come again in glory. We just know, somehow, that while we live in celebration that God has broken into our world, yet we are still waiting and longing for something more. Like Bono said, "I still haven't found what I'm looking for." Not a passive waiting though - not just lying back despondently, waiting for God to come and fix things. Living to the full, building the "kingdom of heaven" here and now, in the only life that we know we have. But doing it from a well of hopeful dissatisfaction. Waiting and longing.