Advent waiting

An advent reflection
by Canon Jon Lownds

“The Meaning is in the Waiting” by Paula Gooder is the Advent 2023 Diocesan Study book choice and being discussed in an online / Zoom conversation. After reading the Introduction and first chapter, I decided to join the conversation. Early the next morning, while reflecting on and praying about the book and discussion, a question “occured” to me - imagine you are in a waiting room, what are you doing? Where is Jesus and what is He doing?

Advent Book StudyThe obvious answer to the first question - “sitting in a chair watching and waiting for ... the bus to arrive ... was dissatisfying.” The answer to the second - where is Jesus? - even more so - “He’s in the washroom cleaning the toilets.” Now to be fair I need to tell you a story.

A long time ago, before children, we (Ada, my wife, and I) met an Episcopal priest, the Rector of St. Paul’s, North Andover, Massachusetts, who invited us to stay with him if we were in the area. As it happens, we did - another story. While visiting he asked if we brought evening wear - suit or sport coat and dress pants, dress shirt and tie for me, dress or such for Ada.

Well we had and so he took us to The Andover Inn for dinner, and I immediately understood. This was a formal dining room and there was an enforced dress code. All the staff were dressed in tuxedos. There was a man dressed in a tux with tails playing a grand piano in one corner of the large room, and the staff had a desk on the far wall opposite us some distance away.

During dinner my attention was drawn to a couple sitting nearby as she opened a small evening bag and took out a cigarette case. (I said this happened a long time ago.) There were matches in the ashtray on the table, and her companion was reaching for the matches when a waiter appeared with a lighter already lit. As I said, the desk was on the opposite wall some distance away, and he did not draw attention to himself as he moved across the room to attend to his customers. While watching this I heard in my inner ear, “that’s what it means to wait on me.”

Ever since that experience I have been and am convinced that waiting on the Lord is a verb implying active attention to Jesus, focus on Jesus, awaiting His instruction, direction, indication of need and desire.

Some years later we were at a buffet restaurant that prided itself on immediate service - a sip of water from the glass and someone was there to refill it. Now I like hot coffee and wait staff that attend to that ‘need’ rate high in my estimation. But here the service was oppressive! I found myself covering my glass to try to avoid service I did not want.

... I realized that sitting and waiting for Jesus to show up is not what Advent is all about.

The result is prayer advice - pray for direction, wait for direction, follow direction, leave the rest to Him. John the Apostle quotes Jesus as saying, “My sheep hear my voice, I know them and they follow me.” (John 10:27). Luke the Evangelist quotes Jesus as saying, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23). While thinking about the waiting room, these Bible passages came to mind. Reflecting on them I realized that sitting and waiting for Jesus to show up is not what Advent is all about.

Some time ago I heard a reflection on Matthew 9:38 - “ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into His harvest” - noting that the Lord hired the harvesters and sent them out, they did not go on their own. Somewhere in the writing of Oswald Chambers he cautions about working ‘for’ Jesus, not ‘with’ Jesus. (Matthew 7:22-23) It doesn’t turn out well.

Borrowing on the prayer of St. Richard of Chichester. “Lord, please let me see and hear you more clearly, love you more intensely, follow you more closely, walk where you lead, do what you want, when you want, the way you want, and to, for and with whom you want, today and every day.” This requires living in the moment, actively watching and listening, and responding as appropriate. In short, this is waiting and watching in the same way waiters and waitresses do every day. And that reminds me of something else we are told Jesus said: “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28)




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