Photo: iStock.com/Joel Papalini
One of the features of missionary life and increasingly of the lives of people in our world who have to or like to travel, is the amount of time spent at airports. This is essentially a time of waiting – to check-in, to get through security and customs, for the call to join the queue to board the plane and wait for take-off. Then we do it all again in reverse on arrival. Though I find all this waiting difficult I can endure it because each stage brings me that little bit closer to my destination.
The experience of waiting is especially intense at airports but it is one of the most common of human experiences. We wait at the supermarket, at traffic lights, and on the phone as a voice reminds us that our call is important. We await the results of medical tests, or examination results, the outcome of surgery or for news of people caught up in troubled situations.
Waiting is often tinged by anxiety even for those for whom anxiety is not normally an issue. It can be especially difficult for those of us who are prone to anxiety as, while we wait, our imagination can run wild and conjure up numerous worst case scenarios. This is especially true if the waiting period is extended without explanation.
However, there are some forms of waiting that can be enjoyed, even by the anxious.The counting off of the sleeps remaining adds to the sense of anticipation and excitement around special events and occasions.
The countdown clock for the Olympic Games starts as soon the games are declared closed – a four year waiting period to the next one. As the time ticks down and the big day draws near the level of anticipation rises. More and more you hear people saying “I can’t wait”.
This is the kind of waiting that is associated with the season of Advent, which has its own countdown device – the Advent calendar.
On the first Sunday of Advent in Year C we read a passage from the gospel of St. Luke that includes this line “when these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Lk 21:28). Advent is a time to prepare for the birth of Christ and to celebrate how in this event God is drawing ever nearer to us. A translation of Romans 8:19 speaks of all creation “standing on tip toe in eager expectation” which seems to take Luke’s call “to stand up and lift up your heads” to a higher level of excitement.
Just as airports are places with an intensified experience of waiting so Advent and Christmas focus our attention on the coming near of God to us. But we know that this drawing near is going on all the time – in prayer, in service to those in need, in random acts of kindness, in the laughter of children, the beauty of creation and in all the near occasions of grace that make up our lives.
A very helpful website for those who want to celebrate the Advent season of waiting is one called The Advent Door. Here Jan Richardson provides some wonderful Advent and Christmas reflections in prose, poetry and art. Reflecting on the reading from Luke 21 and the theme of God drawing near she has a poem that includes the following lines.
It is one of the mysteries of the road,
how the blessing you have travelled toward,
waited for, ached for, suddenly appears
as if it had been with you all this time,
as if it simply needed to know
how far you were willing to walk
to find the lines that were traced upon you
before the day that you were born.
As God draws near to us may we move closer to God in this graced season of waiting!
Columban Fr Patrick O'Shea resides at St Columban's Lower Hutt, New Zealand.
- Read more from The Far East - November/December 2019
- Read more from the current Columban eBulletin
- FREE Advent Resource: "Lead kindly light" (Year A, 2019)