In this first week of Advent we are introduced to consider the coming of our God. This consideration is coupled with the liturgy’s invitation to “wait for the Lord.” In this country we live in the era of online shopping with same day delivery and on-demand movies and TV shows, which has contributed to seeing waiting as an inconvenience. Against this cultural background of instant gratification, the Church is wise in calling us to wait.
When one is invited to wait, one can think of at least two ways of waiting: a passive way of waiting, and an active way of waiting. A passive way of waiting is what one does when waiting for the bus at a bus station, or when one waits to be called in at the Emergency Room. In contrast to this passive waiting, one can engage in active waiting when, for example, a guest is coming to stay in one’s home, and one actively waits for her or his arrival by preparing a guest room.
When the liturgy asks of us to wait for the Lord, I suspect it is more like the active waiting of preparing a guest room than the passive waiting of playing on one’s phone at the doctor’s office waiting to be called in. Advent invites us to reflect on the following questions: If our Lord were to knock at the doors of our hearts and communities, would we have enough room for Him? Would the rooms be ready to welcome Him? What if he is already knocking and perhaps we have not heard Him?
When we allow Christ into our life, he will not displace our agency like an overbearing guest. We are led by God with the gift of being delighted by His commands; we are not moved around like furniture. St. Augustine taught that obedience expands rather than diminishes our freedom. We are not free when we are carried away by sinful inclinations such as greed or hatred, separating ourselves from God in the process. Rather, freedom is exercised when our will identifies with God’s desires for us and our world. St Augustine explained that true freedom is exemplified in heaven where the saints are “all the more truly free, because set free from delight in sinning they take unfailing delight in not sinning…This, indeed, shall not be a natural ability, but the gift of God. For it is one thing to be God, another thing to be a partaker of God. God by nature cannot sin, but the partaker of God receives this inability to sin from God” (City of God, 22.30).
To live on this earth with our eyes set in heaven happens through the virtue of hope. Hope reorients us to look beyond the status quo and into new possibilities in light of God’s coming. Hope is one way to actively wait for the Lord. To actively wait for the Lord, is actually a movement towards Him. Augustine teaches that a desire to move toward God is enkindled by God himself. Our active wait is actually a movement towards God and God’s reign, and Advent is an invitation to a deeper awareness that He himself draws us on to the life of heaven.
We pray for heaven to begin on earth when we pray in the Our Father that God’s will “be done on earth as it is in heaven,” and the Scriptures and the liturgy these Advent days are trying to form us to actively wait for God’s answer to this petition. For example, in heaven there will be unending peace, and so Advent waiting for peace is the hopeful, active waiting that fosters working for the conditions of peace in our own life and communities.
This Advent season, as we consider that God comes into our lives and we are invited to actively wait, let us resist the culture of instant gratification, through acts of hope such as becoming more aware that the God who comes is already at work in our lives by eliciting in us greater freedom to delight in what God delights, and to live accordingly. If we live in this way, if Christ were to knock at our door, we would have a room ready for him.