Monday, December 17, 2007

Waiting with Patience in Advent

This past Sunday the Epistle reading from St. James, the fifth chapter, reminded us to "be patient" as we wait for the coming of the Lord. The bishop of Jerusalem was writing to Christians under the pressure of poverty and violence and certainly no little persecution since the day of Stephen's martyrdom. In his words of encouragement he pointed to the farmer, who despite the unpredictability of the Spring and Autumn rains, so critical for a successful crop, nevertheless remained full of hope by focusing on the valuable harvest to come. James also reminded his readers of the prophets, who faithfully proclaimed God's Word, even though many rejected their message and turned on the messengers themselves. Finally he pointed to Job, the greater sufferer, who learned what it really means to live under the cross, where the face of God is hidden behind pain and loss.

Advent is a season that teaches patience as we are required to wait for our celebration, first giving attention to repentance and the examination of our hearts, which are too often hard and calloused with the world's cares and concerns. We know that to rush into Christmas without appreciating the great need for this coming Savior would be to miss the essence of this holy day.

Yet waiting is never easy. Even in the church the calendar is often crammed with activities and parties that threaten to disrupt our meditation on the mystery of the incarnation by filling our already full days. I realize that for myself Advent has not been the contemplative season of faith which it ought to be. Unfortunately in our face-paced culture that values being busy over being still, prayer and meditation are too often sacrificed on the altar of seeming productivity.

So I need to listen to James again. I may be waiting, but that waiting is frequently just the counting of days and biding time. Yet when the Lord calls on us to "be still and know that I am God" (Psalm 46), He is calling us ultimately to prayer.

May this Advent season still be for all of us a time of faith-filled waiting, and may we resist the pressure that too often pulls us away from the quiet sanctuary of being the presence of the living Christ.

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