Honestly, I thought it must have been a joke.
When I saw the story online last Sunday, I didn’t quite believe it. Many of you probably saw it, too: it’s Amazon.com’s proposed new delivery system. The idea is to use small, unmanned airplanes—drones!—to pick up packages at a warehouse and deliver them to your door, in 30 minutes or less.
When it was unveiled on “60 Minutes” last weekend, I think Charlie Rose summed it up eloquently in one word:
No one has explained yet exactly how this project would work—how thousands of these would be able to hover over cities without crashing in to one another, defying wind and rain and skyscrapers. And I imagine, if they can get it to work, this kind of convenience will not come cheap. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com, conceded that it will take a few years to realize his vision. They have to work out the details and get federal approval. But he seemed serious about it. I have to think, if he doesn’t pull it off, someone else probably will.
Aside from the audacity and daring of the idea, I think the Amazon proposal says much about who we are and what we have become.
We are people in a hurry. We are people who are saying, insistently: Give it to me. Now.
Once, overnight delivery was more than enough. Then we wanted same day delivery. Now, we want everything in 30 minutes—whether it’s a pizza or a paperback. We want our food fast, our dinner microwaved. We can’t wait to get to a phone or a computer—and we don’t, because the phone and the computer are with us, every second, of every day, in our hand or in our pocket. Remember when we used telephones in phone booths? Remember when computers were confined to big boxes on desks in our offices?
What did we do before we had tiny smartphone screens to check every 10 minutes?
In 2013, we just don’t want to wait. For anything. Ever.
But in the middle of this, for four short weeks, we do.
The Church presses the “pause” button.
In the middle of all the hurrying and impatience and insistence comes…Advent.
We find ourselves suddenly in a state of suspended animation. It’s the season of expectation. Of longing.
A child is coming, a hope is dawning. In our liturgies and in our lives, we yearn for something we cannot quite name. We pray for deliverance. We cry out to God, “O come, Emmanuel! Ransom us! When will we be freed?”
Like prisoners in a cell, we mark the days.
We light candles, one at a time, week by week, to slowly bring forth light.
We fold open the cardboard windows of the Advent calendar, day by day, one day at a time, for 25 days.
“Stay awake,” Jesus told us in the gospel last week.
“Repent,” John the Baptist says today. “Prepare the way of the Lord.” Make the crooked path straight.
If you ask a child what we are waiting for, they’ll tell you in one word: “Christmas.” It’s that simple.
For a child, of course, it can’t come fast enough. For the rest of us, we’d probably like more time—a few more weeks to plan, shop, wrap and ship. But the reality of Advent—the astonishing truth at its center—plunges us into something deeper. The question demands an answer.
What, exactly, are we waiting for? What are we preparing for?
Spoiler alert: It isn’t really Christmas. It isn’t the presents and the tree, the cards and the tinsel.
It is Christ. We are waiting for Christ.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote beautifully about the three comings of Jesus: in Bethlehem, at the incarnation; at the end of time, for the final judgment; and here and now, through the sacrament of the Eucharist, and the grace of God, and the prayerful awakening of our hearts.
I would suggest to you that it is this last one that we need to pay closest attention to. That is what Advent is really about: Christ, the savior, dwelling within each of us. Gracing us with mercy, with humility, with patience, with love. If we make that a priority, we will make of our lives an ongoing Advent. We will live waiting and watching in joyful hope for Christ to enter our lives and to be with us, always.
That is the very essence of his name: “Emmanuel.” God with us.
Only by making ourselves ready to encounter Christ today, can we make ourselves ready to encounter him at the end of history.
So prepare. Repent. Make the crooked paths straight.
Heal a wound. Mend a quarrel. Comfort the lonely. Console the grieving. Pray for the poor, the outcast, the forgotten. Look beyond. And look within.
And do it all deliriously, wondrously, tenderly, with love.
Remember this: Advent is the time when we wait not for Christmas, but for Christ. We wait for him to step into the doorway of the heart. We put out the welcome mat. We light a candle. We make the walkway to the front door of our lives straight. We stand at the door and invite him in.
It’s worth asking ourselves: What will he find when he arrives?
In a few weeks, wise men will be scanning the skies. They won’t be looking for a drone from Amazon.com. They will be looking for the sign that the waiting is over, that hope is on the horizon.
A star will appear. Light will break through.
Christmas is coming, yes. But more importantly, Christ is coming.
That is what all the waiting and wondering and worrying is all about. We can’t lose sight of that.
In an age when nobody wants to wait for anything, Advent reminds us: some things are worth the wait.