Advent 2: While You Are Waiting

By Jan Richardson


Like One Day © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Epistles, Advent 2, Year B: 2 Peter 3.8-15a

Wait. It’s the word perhaps most associated with the season of Advent, often showing up in the company of the word patience. And indeed in today’s lection from the epistles we see these kindred words make their appearance together as Peter counsels his friends—beloved, he calls them—about time and waiting.

So often we talk about waiting as a passive state, a condition in which we can only cool our heels while a desired result makes its slow and seemingly meandering way toward us. And yet, as we frequently see in the readings for Advent, waiting is a practice that often calls us to work. Peter’s letter is a great example of this. In this missive written to a church in need of encouragement and hope, he uses a fistful of active verbs to tell of how we are to wait for God: leading lives, hastening the coming of the day of God, strive, regard.

I’m struck by how, when Peter uses the word patience or patient, he isn’t simply describing how we are to wait; he is talking about an aspect of God. He tells his friends of how God “is patient with us, not wanting any to perish.” He urges them, “Regard the patience of the Lord as our salvation.”

Sometimes I wait in a way that seems to distance me from God. I push against time; I push against God, who I think should be moving with greater speed and whose sense of time, as Peter points out, is so different from ours. Patience can feel punishing and solitary; it’s what’s left to me while God—who has all the time in the world—takes God’s sweet time.

Yet Peter’s words challenge me to be mindful that patience is not simply something God expects of us; it is also an aspect of God’s own nature. And in telling us of how God is patient with us, I sense that Peter means that God is not only patient toward us—we who, in our flawed state, require so much forbearance from the Divine—but also that God is patient alongside us: that patience is a quality and a practice that God and humans share in together. Waiting is a point of connection between us and God as we all wait with one another for the fullness of time.

It’s important to remember that there is holy waiting—patience that draws us deeper into the heart and the designs of God. And there is waiting that is something other than holy—those occasions when our waiting actually is resistance to taking a necessary action. Or when someone else tells us to be patient because in fact they are unwilling to act or do not want us to act. I think of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” in which he wrote, “For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait!’ It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’”

And so there is a third word we must bear in mind when waiting and patience make their appearance: discernment needs to be in their company, that we may recognize the time for waiting and the time for taking right action. Discernment itself is a kind of waiting, a practice by which we seek to know the next step God would have us take, rather than relying on our own impulses.

Waiting—and the discernment to which waiting calls us—requires that we clear away what distracts us from seeing clearly. It bids us to make a space in which, in the midst of all the input that comes from those seeking to tell us what we should do, we still ourselves and listen. Making this kind of space can be wrenching, when we are so attached to the things that help us fill our time. Yet this space is rich with possibility and with presence; to use an Advent image, it is pregnant.

“Absence, emptiness, is a bowl of receptivity” writes artist and calligrapher Laurie Doctor. “Often we want to fill it quickly—and then it gets crowded with all kinds of replacements: busyness, self-importance, lists, talking, TV, email, Scrabble. But waiting, active waiting, as if that bowl will be filled with presence as easily as it was emptied, leads us somewhere else.”

How are you waiting? Where is your waiting leading you? In this season, how are you making a space for stillness and for listening, that you might know what you need to wait for and how God is calling you to participate in what God is bringing about?

Blessing for Waiting

Who wait
for the night
to end

bless them.

Who wait
for the night
to begin

bless them.

Who wait
in the hospital room
who wait
in the cell
who wait
in prayer

bless them.

Who wait
for news
who wait
for the phone call
who wait
for a word

who wait
for a job
a house
a child

bless them.

Who wait
for one who
will come home

who wait
for one who
will not come home

bless them.

Who wait with fear
who wait with joy
who wait with peace
who wait with rage

who wait for the end
who wait for the beginning
who wait alone
who wait together

bless them.

Who wait
without knowing
what they wait for
or why

bless them.

Who wait
when they
should not wait
who wait
when they should be
in motion
who wait
when they need
to rise
who wait
when they need
to set out

bless them.

Who wait
for the end
of waiting
who wait
for the fullness
of time
who wait
emptied and
open and
ready

who wait
for you

o bless.

P.S. For a related reflection on waiting, click the image or title below:

Door 15: Another Name for Patience

[To use the “Like One Day” image, please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Advent Door possible. Thank you!]

Laurie Doctor’s quotation is from her reflection “Absence and Presence” on the “Musings” page at lauriedoctor.com.

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