What are We Waiting For?

Madonna and child in St Thomas Episcopal Church, Fifth Avenue, NYC
The readings for Tuesday in the first week of Advent in the Eucharistic lectionary include Isaiah 11:1-10, a portion of Psalm 72 which was posted earlier today, and Luke 10:21-24. One of the motifs in the OT and Gospel, if not the Psalm, is children and infants. Another is the theme of expectation and to a certain extent, imagination of a world we do not yet know. The wolf shall live with the lamb and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and a little child shall lead them.

During Advent, we talk a lot about expectation and preparation. Many of us long for some time of contemplation and quiet during the season. Most of us live such busy lives that the thought of quiet time is refreshing. We long for it.

But what are we preparing for, really? Is it the baby? 

Those among us who are parents have had the experience of preparing for a baby. There is definitely preparation: painting the room, setting up the crib, buying linens and clothes and baby accessories. Choosing a name. And there is longing and imagining, too. What will the baby be like? What books will we read to the baby in the rocking chair? 

But then the baby comes, and life is suddenly different. Maybe having the baby in the house plays out as we expected. But usually that doesn't happen. And furthermore, and to my mind more importantly, we are changed because of the baby among us. We are transformed. Sometimes we are transformed into sleep-deprived grouches; sometimes we are transformed into people who suddenly would willingly lay down our lives for another. Who knows what will happen, but we will be transformed. And it doesn't come without a cost.

It is transformation that we are preparing for, expecting, waiting for. Not just the birth of the Christ Child, as wonderful as that is. We are called to prepare for change, again, to be expectant about what new thing God may be calling us to do. And so we try to make space in our days and in our lives (and yes, being quiet and listening is a good way to do that, even if we can only manage a few minutes a day) to listen out for God's call to us in this place and at this time.

Transformation is not without risk and pain. We in the church aren't really into that. I've heard more people than I can count explain that the church is the one thing they can count on that will never change. They value that because the world is so chaotic. But a church that doesn't change, or a Christian that is not willing to be transformed, is dead. 

If our God is a living God, and the Christ Child will come again and again, and someday the Lord will return and expect to find us not sitting and waiting but alert and working for the Kingdom, then the pain of change is going to be part of the equation. Transformation seldom happens without at least some discomfort and disequilibrium. 

And so, this Advent, may we be ready to risk giving up the notion that it is simply a season of sitting by the fire in our slippers with soft music and twinkling lights at hand, all wonderfulness and sweetness. May we be willing to expect no less than transformation.