Holy Waiting

Homily for the 1st Sunday of Advent

by Deacon Scott D. Gilfillan

Strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones. 1 Thes 3:13

Advent is a season that highlights one unappreciated virtue – waiting.  Too often, as we approach Christmas, we get over-attached to busyness and preparation.  How many times in the next few weeks will you be asked, “Are you ready for Christmas?” Preparing for Christmas is a national obsession. In the flurry of activity, however, we gloss over the virtue that adds meaning and depth to the preparation: patiently waiting for the Lord to come into our world and in tor our life.

One reason we focus on activity rather than waiting: we don’t like to wait! Studies say that an average person spends three years of his or her life waiting:  waiting in line to buy something, waiting to see a doctor, waiting for a driver’s license.  Most people try to avoid waiting. In the grocery store, I get anxious when my line is moving slower than the other line.  In the doctor’s office, I get annoyed when the receptionist skips my name and calls a person that arrived after me. I don’t think I’m alone.  

Two types of waiting. Advent is an invitation to gain a deeper appreciation for waiting.  It’s an invitation to transform what I call “regular waiting” into “holy waiting”.  Regular waiting causes stress, boredom, and a nagging sensation that one’s life is slipping away.  Holy waiting brings us closer to Christ. 

Advent is a time to practice making all types of waiting “holy waiting”.

You have probably experienced examples of holy waiting in your own life.  These are usually times where this is nothing you can do but trust God and wait.  An example would be waiting by the bedside of someone who is dying.  Or waiting for the results of a biopsy.  Or waiting for the grade on a final exam.  Or waiting for the birth of a child.  In many cases, there is nothing you can do but trust in God and wait. 

What are some of the differences?  With holy waiting, there is peace.  With regular waiting, there is impatience.  With holy waiting, there is the expectation of delight.  With regular waiting, there is predictability and drudgery.  With holy waiting there is trust.  With regular waiting, there is suspicion.  With holy waiting, there is openness to the presence of God.  With regular waiting, one is so self-absorbed he or she misses the coming of Jesus, fails to see the fingerprints of God.

What are we waiting for? As Christians, Advent is a time to await the coming of Christ.  The season of Advent – from the Latin Adventus or coming – highlights two ‘comings’ of Jesus. 

The first coming has already occurred.  Jesus was born into this world as an infant, the eternal Word of God becomes flesh.  This time of waiting is usually characterized by keen anticipation of Christmas day.  Children wait with excitement and eagerness.  Many families have an Advent wreath to use candles to mark the slow march of time toward this blessed event.  When the last candle is lit, our long wait is almost over. 

The Advent season also turns our focus on waiting for the second coming of Jesus.  This second coming is described in the gospel reading for the 1st Sunday of Advent.  The people “will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”  (LK 21:25-28, 34-36) 

Most people look forward to celebrating the first coming.  Not many look forward to experiencing the second coming.  Why?  The gospel continues, “nations will be in dismay… people will die of fright .”  These words sound ominous.  Who would want to wait for this day?

But the gospel also illustrates the same two types of waiting.  Regular waiting is characterized by people filled with fear and anxiety.  Holy waiting is characterized by people standing erect and raising their heads because their redemption is at hand.  (Lk 21:28)  

Holy waiting develops the disposition that St. Paul says we need – “to increase and abound in love for one another and all…to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones.”  (1 Thes 3:12-13)  Amen.

Examples in Scripture.  Scripture is filled with examples of people who are waiting, holy waiting.  One might even say the entire Old Testament and New Testament is a lesson in holy waiting.  In the book of the Prophet Jeremiah, the Lord says, “The days are coming when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel…and will raise for David a just shoot.”  For six hundred years the people waited for this promise to be fulfilled.  Jesus was born and fulfilled this prophecy.  That’s serious ‘holy waiting’. 

There are several examples of holy waiting in the New Testament.  The shepherds in the fields outside of Bethlehem waited for a savior.  There is Mary, awaiting the birth of Jesus as foretold by the angel Gabriel.  John the Baptist waited for the Lamb of God.  At the presentation of Jesus in the temple, there were two practicing holy waiting.  The old man Simeon waiting his entire life for the consolation of Israel sees the infant and proclaims, “Behold… Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace.”  The eighty-four-year-old prophetess Anna, a widow most of her life, sees the infant and sees the “consolation of Israel”.    Mary Magdalene practiced ‘holy waiting’ outside the tomb of the crucified Jesus. 

These are examples of holy waiting.  In many cases, they were going about their life but lived with this underlying expectation that the Lord is coming. 

Make Holy Waiting a Part of your Life.   A person can make all parts of life, whether active or inactive, a time of holy waiting.  Holy waiting is an inner disposition.  Whatever you’re doing, whether it is folding clothes or cleaning out the gutters, you’ve got a choice.  You can make this a time of holy waiting or a time of regular waiting. 

The Third Coming.  In between the first coming of Jesus as an infant, and the second coming of Jesus in power and glory, there is a third coming of Jesus that the season of Advent illuminates.  The coming of Christ into our hearts.  Unless a person adopts this attitude of holy waiting, he or she will never experience the third and most important coming. 

Find some time this season to practice ‘holy waiting’ in all of your activities.  May you experience many blessings this Advent season as you “wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,” both into your world and your life.