“When angry, count to 10 before you speak.”
“Think before you speak.”
“Look before you leap.”
Wise words from wise people: stop and think before you act, perhaps to prevent an action which you might regret. My favourite ‘stop and think’ advice has to be “Before you criticise someone, try walking a mile in their shoes. That way you'll be a mile away and have their shoes!”
Advent is a powerful time for reminding us what we are waiting for. But as these sayings remind us, there are more reasons to wait than just waiting for something; sometimes we wait because of something, holding back from something... “Before you set out just check the forecast will you?” This might only involve waiting a minute, or even ten seconds – just to make sure we’re not making a mistake. This waiting is just long enough to show us that everything might not be as it seemed, and allows us to act from a more thought through or informed position.
We find Joseph receiving his own ‘wait a minute’ call in Matthew:
When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." (2.18b-21)
In general the sayings collected above are good common sense advice that might be plastered round any anger-management course or self-help manual, but Joseph could have followed every good piece of advice given on prudence and would probably still have resolved to dismiss his pregnant fiancée. The angel’s words however are tailored just for this man whose world has just taken a battering. Joseph was asked to hear a higher perspective on what was happening to him, to stay from his course of action: “stop, wait, know what God is doing.” For Joseph it was an angel, for others it has been different. For me it has been scripture, the preacher, the songwriter, the friend or the silence, all of them carrying the voice of Christ. It is Christ who knows our hearts and our ways.
Anyone can ask us to stop and think, but only those with an extra perspective on our lives will be able to tell us why. Advent reminds us, as we consider both Jesus’ coming and return, that God indeed has that all-embracing perspective. In Advent we hear the voice of the one who is the beginning and the end – might that voice, this Advent, be saying ‘wait a minute!’?