I shift in my seat.
I grumble and mumble.
I roll my eyes and let out exaggerated, exasperated sighs.
This is how I wait.
I’m not proud of this, mind you. I know that petulance never makes the line move faster or the plane take off any sooner. But man, I hate to wait.
There seems to be only two ways to wait: passively and actively.
The passive waiter is patient, unhurried, easygoing. In other words, not me. No, I take charge and act: I switch lines or switch flights. I make things happen, though often action born of impatience turns out to be ill-advised, unwise and generally not a good idea.
But Advent shows us a third way of waiting.
In Advent, we see a push-and-pull of action and stillness, of active preparation and passive acquiescence that leads to nothing less than a miracle.
Mary and Joseph are able to act decisively and boldly when it is required of them to act. They both actively collaborated with God’s plan when they each said “Yes” to the angel’s proclamation to them. Mary wastes no time hurrying to Elizabeth when she hears of her miraculous pregnancy. Joseph obeys his visions and marries Mary, then takes his family to Egypt to avoid Herod’s murderous rampage.
Yet, they are also able to be still, to rest and allow God to work out his purpose, in His time, in His way. They could prepare for his birth, but nothing they could do — no amount of impatience — could hasten the birth. Once their son was born, they would feed and clothe, nourish and instruct him in the the faith. But their actions could not prepare them for the singular challenge of raising the Messiah, for watching Him die, or seeing the glory of His resurrection. For this they could only depend on God’s action, and they did.
Mary and Joseph live in this tension of action and rest, knowing and not knowing. They are able to live “in the meantime”, not with passive inertia nor with frantic, panicked activity.
They know the difference between what is theirs to do and what is God’s.
In Advent we mark the time when we wait for Christ to be born in us.
With Mary, we ponder how God will use us to bring about his Kingdom.
With Mary, we wonder how He will make life where there is none.
With Mary, we hear ourselves say, “I don’t see how you’re going to use me, but I’m willing.”
With Mary, we do what is asked of us, then wait with patient trust and expectancy.
The first Advent, and every one since, marks the uneasy, uncomfortable, hidden, mysterious, beautiful time when we are asked to act and wait, to be still and to be on the move, to do our part and to leave room for what God will do.
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability —and that it may take a very long time. And so I think it is with you. Your ideas mature gradually — let them grow, let them shape themselves, without undue haste. Don’t try to force them on, as though you could be today what time (that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will) will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give Our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.
(Pierre Teilhard de Chardin)