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Patiently waiting for Christmas

By DAVID WHITLOCK

Life Matters

Waiting doesn’t come easily for most of us. We want to hurry our waiting along, pushing it through to its end.

The room I’m sitting in now is called a “waiting room.” I arrived very early this morning to pray with a family whose loved one is having a lengthy, surgical procedure.

We wait for the nurse to call us back to the “holding area.” Then we wait for the nurses to take the patient to surgery. Then, we wait till the surgery is over. It’s a waiting process.

I like to think of myself as a “disciplined waiter.” I’ve brought several projects to work on, so I am actively waiting.

The truth is, I’m a lousy waiter.

I wonder what Joseph did while he was in the “waiting room,” so long ago. Did he adjust the hay for Mary? Did he step outside and gaze at that bright star shining in the darkness and wonder, “Why?” Or did he simply sit by Mary, holding her hand, staring into her eyes?

Maybe he thought of the Scriptures, of how his ancestor, Abraham, waited 75 years for God to fulfill the promise of Isaac’s birth.

The rabbis of his day would have taught Joseph from his youth how the people of Israel had waited 40 years, how they wandered around in the wilderness, waiting for the green light to enter The Promised Land, hundreds of years before Joseph’s time.

And speaking of his people, the Israelites, Joseph would have been aware that they had waited generation after generation for the big event, the arrival of the Messiah. “Could it really be,” he must have wondered, “that the Messiah would come as a baby?”

Joseph was surely a better waiter than I am.

I remember watching my older brother, Dougie, getting ready for school when he was in first grade. I couldn’t wait to go to school, like him.

When I got to go to school, I couldn’t wait for recess. Then I couldn’t wait for summer.

And so it went: I couldn’t wait to move from elementary school to junior high and junior to high school, and high school to college. I couldn’t wait to start a career and begin a family. I couldn’t wait for those grandbabies.

If there is ever a time when we hear that phrase, “I can’t wait,” it’s during the Christmas season. Kids can’t wait for Christmas day, even if the adults sometimes can’t wait for it to be over.

But the moment we are waiting for can flash by us if we’re overly anxious about waiting. We can get distracted and miss the moment while we are consumed with trivial matters. Or our impatience can tire us, dulling our senses; we become bored and sleep through the moment.

David prayed to the Lord, “On you I will wait all the day” (Psalm 25:4). He was patient enough to wait for the Lord’s guidance for each moment of the day.

It’s not the waiting that is in question; waiting is a given. It’s what happens to us in the waiting that matters. Do we become anxious and aggravated, or does waiting make us more mindful, more aware of God’s presence – his still, quiet voice that whispers his direction to us?

Think of Advent something like a waiting room. We wait, knowing that the person for whom we wait is not visible, yet is nonetheless “here,” even if, “back there,” somewhere.

Advent teaches us to slow down and take in the moment, while we wait. We wait for Christmas, even though we realize Christ was born over two thousand years ago; even though at the same time, we believe he is “here.”

The family with whom I wait hears their name called.

Surgery is over.

But the waiting is not; they will just move to another waiting room.

And so do we.

We wait for Christ, here or there.

We wait for him, who has already come, is here, and has promised one day to return again.

Contact David Whitlock, Ph.D., at drdavid@davidwhitlock.org or visit his website, davidwhitlock.org.