What are you waiting for?
The first question of Advent.
“But in those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
“Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels and gather the elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”
“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”
“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert and pray, for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.”
“Therefore, keep awake, for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening or at midnight or at cockcrow or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.”
“And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”
“Keep awake,” Christ echoes, “Keep awake.”
Advent is a season of waiting. But the question is, “What are you waiting for?” Is it all about waiting to hear the Baby Jesus story again?
For those who read along with the church calendar and have already heard lots of apocalyptic warnings from Jesus, we may be wondering in this holiday season why we have yet another story about The End. Isn’t it time for tidings of comfort and joy? But in Mark 13, you can practically feel the winter wind blowing and howling in the abyss.
In the rhythm of Advent, we almost start backward by first waiting for the return of Jesus to come again. So that might answer one version of “What are you waiting for?” But then this only brings up more questions: “When, where, how, and why?” These are just the first questions of Advent.
Perfect Christian Answers and Actually Honest Answers
Let’s say we could respond to the questions of Advent with Perfect Christian Answers.
Q: What are you waiting for?
Perfect Christian Answer: “I’m waiting for Jesus!”
Q: Why are you waiting?
PCA: “Because he’s coming back on the clouds!”
Q: When are you waiting?
PCA: “I don’t know the day or the hour!”
Q: How are you waiting?
PCA: “In patience, piety, and penitence.”
Good for you! You definitely could say all those perfect things. No monk or nun or saint would believe you, much less a sinner, but you could say those things.
So those are some Perfect Christian Answers to Advent’s questions. But what are the Actually Honest Answers?
Q: “What are you waiting for?”
Actually Honest Answer: “Well, that depends.”
Maybe you’re waiting for a big spiritual breakthrough. Maybe you’re looking for an epiphany, an insight, to transcend and transform. Maybe you’re waiting for it to be “five o’clock somewhere” today. Maybe you’re just trying to get through this awful month full of fake-happy reminders and missed potential, of joy that didn’t pan out for you in this life. Maybe you’re waiting for a promotion, or waiting to have enough “eff you” money to quit your job. Maybe you’re waiting to be happy until you have kids, or maybe you’re waiting until the kids are out of the house; waiting until the investments get a little higher; waiting until it’s Spring already.
Maybe you’re waiting until you’re healed.
Maybe you’re waiting until whatever needs to happen finally happens so you can finally be happy.
Q: “Why are you waiting?”
Actually Honest Answer: “Because I need a little more of a safety net, I need more respect, I need my name out there, I need people to know my name and my opinions, I need to be liked and revered.”
“All I know is I sure as hell don’t have whatever It is now.”
Q: “When are you waiting?”
AHA: “As long as it takes.”
Q: “How are you waiting?”
AHA: “Oh, I’m not waiting at all - I don’t have time to wait - why would I wait? God helps those who help themselves. Life comes for those who make their own luck.”
There may also be some more honest answers to another question: “What are you afraid of?” Because if we’re actually honest, we know we’re often more driven by that than we realize.
Here I’ll just speak for myself: I’m afraid I’ve made too many wrong decisions. I’m afraid that parts of my past will never not haunt me. Afraid of people I like disliking me, afraid there’s more out of my control than I realize, afraid there is more in my control than I’m doing enough about and I’m letting the Good Life slip by.
And I’ve got even more honest answers to this question that are just between me and God. I don’t have the Perfect Christian Answers.
Advent Tensions, Advent Possibilities
As Dr. John Fairless and Delmer Chilten have said, Advent has this tension between penitence and hope, for if there’s nothing to hope for, why be penitent?
They also point us to St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who would tell us that in Advent we can be thinking of all the ways and times Christ comes:
Christ coming in the beginning—with the formation of the cosmos as in the Gospel of John, or with the Baby as in Matthew and Luke
Christ coming in The End, like in our Mark reading today
Christ coming in the now, living within you and me with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
It’s that first reason why this first Sunday of Advent—and the first Sunday of the entire church year—we are given this more apocalyptic theme. But “What are we waiting for?” depends on your timeframe.
It’s also a question that God’s people have asked since the days they were living out the scripture we' now read. And each time, the faithful ask and confess and believe that the God who we thought had left is a God who has returned and will return to help us, as Isaiah and the psalmist also say today.
The good news is that for as long as we’ve been a people, the people of God constantly forget and then are joyfully reminded of this perennial fact: we don’t have to wait for God. God comes to us.
God didn’t just come in a Bethlehem baby, and isn’t just coming whenever that day and hour of The End is. God was working throughout the story of Israel, God is still working here and now, and God will never stop working until the stars’ time are all up.
This is why we can have joy: not because we wait for an absent God, but we wait moment by moment to see how God’s gonna show up next, because God is showing up for us all the time.
How Do Disciples Wait?
So besides the Perfect Christian Answers and the Actually Honest Answers of our fears, what is the Way that Christ calls us to wait?
Maybe we can wait for Christ in our midst, to meet Jesus in another person. Because maybe you feel like you’ve seen Jesus before. Maybe you’ve even met Jesus before in a place where Perfect Christian Society says, “That’s not where Jesus goes!” As he told us, he’s in the prison, he’s on the streets, he’s in the darkness. And somewhere in the darkest times of our lives, he’s been there, oh, he’s been there. Given the darkness you’ve been through and the pure hell you’ve been through it may be almost offensive to suggest it, but Jesus goes to hell. And he can be anywhere from the strip club to the casino, from the cartel den to the Wall Street
cartel board room, even the killing fields and torture chambers. Or are you gonna tell Jesus where he is and isn’t? Are you gonna tell him when the hour is that he’ll be? Are you gonna tell him what time he’s gonna show up, and where you’ll be?
“Keep awake,” he said.
Are you gonna wait as if he’ll never show up in your life? Because if we don’t think Jesus Christ can appear in our lives at any time, then we are not “keeping awake.”
We don’t have to be Perfect Christians in Advent. Let’s not blow smoke up ourselves or at God. We’re not fooling God on this one.
But we can take heart; as Paul said, “You are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
All we have to remember—in patient joy—is that God is coming to us and coming for us. And sometimes that patient joy means we gotta be patient with each other. How patient are we with our neighbor who annoys us, much less our social media “neighbors” who may enrage us? Are we patient enough to believe that Christ can show up in them anytime? Or are we telling Christ when, where, and who he can show up in?
How do disciples wait? Not perfectly. But they wait in the Lord. Asking him in prayer to abide in us. Sometimes shouting for joy, singing with elation, hiking through the woods to remember that he is beyond our walls, sometimes quieting ourselves enough to listen for where he is within us; if we can be bold enough to trust him when he said that he can show up anywhere, that must mean within us, too.
When are we waiting? All the time, anytime. Each moment is a chance to wake back up and keep watch.
Why are we waiting? Because we’ve already seen his reign in our lives if we knew where to look for it. He didn’t abdicate his throne.
The Lord is near. He’s nearer than you think, he’s as near as the person on your left, as near as the person on your right. As near as your enemy, as near as the darkness in your life.
The Lord is near.
So if you’re waiting for Christ to be in your midst…what are you waiting for?
To receive new posts of Indwelling, subscribe below: