Friday, December 12, 2008

More Reflections on Advent as Waiting

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. (Luke 2:25)

Is a species of death
Is the longest side of resurrection’s arc.
Is a transparency of soul
An active passivity; a participation.

At Advent we remember that we are waiting with Simeon in the temple for the coming of Jesus. We are not only waiting in the great temple of history, but in the temples and histories of every situation, relationship, and conversation; every work and endeavour; whether these be cruel, joyful or mundane. We wait like Simeon for the ‘consolation of Israel’ in all the myriad little Israels of our day-to-day lives. This is a form of giving up and letting go. It is the act of saying ‘I don’t have the answers’, of ‘ultimately I am powerless and need God here’. It is a ‘by myself I can do nothing’ (John 5:30, 15:5). In this sense,
Waiting is a species of death.

With Jesus, death is never the end; in fact it is the very beginning of something new he is doing. That’s a fact spelled out at the empty tomb, but it is also expressed in the miracle of the incarnation – in the birth itself. The birth pangs are the sign that life is coming; so it was with Mary, so it is with the groaning world, so it is with our broken lives. And if we wait, though we die, we also find ourselves swung up into life and redemption. It is a miracle with G-force. In this sense,
Waiting is the longest side of resurrection’s arc.

Sometimes Jesus’ relationship to the Father is described as one of ‘transparency’; that in his human nature he was utterly transparent to the reality and presence of God, who showed and worked through him perfectly. Our spotless window. Philosophers get a little too excited about this sort of imagery but it’s useful and quite beautiful really. So we should be like Jesus right? Transparent to our Father. To consciously wait is to look for the coming of Jesus, and to become more and more aware that his presence is shining in the room. In this sense,
Waiting is a transparency of soul.

By ‘waiting’ I don’t mean some abstract and philosophical state. I mean – actually waiting. Sitting in a chair and saying in your head: ‘Right, I am going to wait for God’. I suppose it is what mystics might call attentiveness, but it’s not really that complicated. It’s thinking ‘I am waiting for God’ as I brush my teeth, or drive the car, or watch my body fail, or enjoy a conversation with a friend. It is opening these moments up to God. It is dying to them and miraculously receiving them back from the hand of the Father. This goes against our inherent busy-bee instinct: ‘I don’t like waiting’, ‘I could be doing something useful’, ‘this is such a waste’. But as we wrestle these struggling urges in our waiting, we feel something rising – first expectancy, but then something else. We feel God’s boiling, silent power smiling at us. Try it! Hold yourself down long enough! It’s not a case of my will (I am active), or God’s will (I am passive); it is ‘I will God’s will’. It is handing over the reins at Gethsemane; it is lying in a manger. And when we act like Jesus we take part in Jesus, our deaths are held in his death, and our resurrection is assured in his resurrection (Romans 6:5). In this sense,
Waiting is an active passivity; a participation.

And, after all those years, Simeon held the tiny baby in his arms. He looked down and saw the salvation of the world was resting massively in his open palms. And we shall too! Happy Christmas!


andy goodliff said...

fantastic post phil - worth waiting the day until you could post it

Nigel Coles said...

this is good phil - hope you're enjoying Oxford