“The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you see one more card
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part”
~ Tom Petty
Advent is a season of waiting for the In-Breaking of Peace, waiting for the Incarnation of Love. It is a season for lighting candles in the darkness because we believe the Light of the world will soon shed the light of eternal love and justice on every dark corner of the world.
Isn’t every day Advent? It has been Advent for over 2,000 years and counting. Aren’t we all still waiting? And every time another mass shooting takes the lives of innocent people in an American classroom, every time a bomb kills little girls in the Middle East, every time another child is sold into sexual slavery, every time another transgender person is beaten to death, every time a little black boy is thrown away into the prison industrial complex while a white, thieving banker is sailing on his yacht, every time an idealistic young cop just four months on the job takes a bullet to the head while intervening in a domestic violence altercation, every time thousands of lives are destroyed by a hurricane or typhoon, every time a jackass drops a cigarette and starts a fire that consumes a mountainside – I find I am not so sure the waiting will ever end. Some days, some weeks – some years even – my inner light falters as I sink into the nihilism of unbelief.
Oh Lord, how long shall I cry For help,
And you will not listen?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
And you will not save?
Why do you make we see
And look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are
Strife and contention arise.
Oh Lord, how long shall I cry?
But rather than wallow in the lament of the prophet Habakkuk I choose today to dwell in the song of a poor girl with every reason to be filled with fear rather than hope. In her song I see the light of a hope that understands that even in a dark moment God is present.
And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
Do I merely take it on faith that there is an in-breaking, a once and for all shift that will dry the tears, fill the bellies, release the captives and unbind the burdened? Do I naively submerge myself in the story of a Virgin birth and then wait passively in a broken world for another miracle? No I believe because I witness slivers of light, though swirling with the motes of a weary world, that pierce the present darkness.
In fact, I believe we have this whole waiting on God notion backwards. If I assent to an all-powerful and all-good God (and some days I am not sure that I do) then the only way I can comprehend such a broken world is to believe that God self limits on our behalf. Rather than a controlling, coercive power, God beckons. So, maybe this Advent, God is waiting on us. Just maybe God is waiting on us to figure out how to peel away our scared and stingy lives to love without reservation. Maybe God is lighting a millennium of Advent candles waiting for us to respond to the Grace poured out for all humans by being that Grace.
We are not called to wait passively for the Advent of Peace. We are called to partner with God. Isn’t that our Christmas story? Isn’t that the meaning of the Incarnation? God chose to work with and through humans in the waters of birth, baptism, foot washing and corpse bathing to bring the Message of love and reconciliation.
When I feel like I can wait no longer, like the wait is futile, my heart pulls from its shadowy recesses words that move me into action. Words like King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” that reject passive waiting and demand action. Words like Walter Wink’s that invite us to understand that the “gospel does not teach nonresistance to evil. Jesus counsels resistance, but without violence.”
Or Alice Walker from We Are The Ones We have Been Waiting For: Inner Light in a Time of Darkness
“It was the poet June Jordan who wrote “We are the ones we have been waiting for.” Sweet Honey in the Rock turned those words into a song. Hearing this song, I have witnessed thousands of people rise to their feet in joyful recognition and affirmation. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for because we are able to see what is happening with a much greater awareness than our parents or grandparents, our ancestors, could see. This does not mean we believe, having seen the greater truth of how all oppression is connected, how pervasive and unrelenting, that we can “fix” things. But some of us are not content to have a gap in opportunity and income that drives a wedge between rich and poor, causing the rich to become ever more callous and complacent and the poor to become ever more wretched and humiliated. Not willing to ignore starving and brutalized children. Not willing to let women be stoned or mutilated without protest. Not willing to stand quietly by as farmers are destroyed by people who have never farmed, and plants are engineered to self-destruct. Not willing to disappear into our flower gardens, Mercedes Benzes or sylvan lawns. We have wanted all our lives to know that Earth, who has somehow obtained human beings as her custodians, was also capable of creating humans who could minister to her needs, and the needs of her creation. We are the ones.”
So friends, my light burns brightly again when I recall that the light is you and me when we reach out a hand to a devastated friend. Hope flickers brightly again when I see the light in you that chooses to offer a word of comfort rather than condemnation. How bright the flame does burn when we all choose to look injustice in the eye rather than bury our heads in the sand. And I know the inbreaking is here and yet to come when I see the light within you that allows the pain of the world to enter you and move you into action. The light is us animated by Grace that knows no limit but Self restricts on our behalf.
And that’s not secular humanism friends, that’s not progressive or social gospel theology. That’s Jesus.
“nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21)
May you rise from your desk, your kitchen table, your lazy-boy, to shine the Light of love in the world.