Active Waiting (Second Sunday in Advent)

Sermons on YouTube…

As Phoenix and I were doing “doggie class” this past summer, the trainers would begin each session by asking all the doggie parents how things had gone during the previous week, as we practiced the commands and activities we had been working on in class.  Were we having problems?  Did we have any questions?  Did we feel like we were making progress?

And almost always, Phoenix and I were doing great!  He is such a smart doggie, and although I’m biased, he was one of the star pupils in the class.  He picked up on things really fast.  He did what he was supposed to do.  And even when I didn’t practice things with him as much as I should have, he would still be doing well.

Except for one time.  We were all supposed to be learning the command “pose.”  “Pose” is the command that basically means “stand still.”  The dog is supposed to stop and not move his paws, even if you bump up against him.  And the purpose of this is to do things like have the dog stand still while you dry the dog when he comes in from the rain, or when you need to wipe his paws so he doesn’t track mud through the house.

We had a terrible time with this at first!  To teach this, you’re supposed to kneel down next to the dog and hold him still as you say, “pose.”  But every time I even started to bend down, Phoenix interpreted this as “oh boy, it’s wrestle with Daddy time!”  But we tried, and kept on trying all week, without much success.

And when the next class came around, and we were asked “how’s it going?”, I spoke up and said, “we’re having a really hard time with ‘pose.’”  And when the trainer asked me to elaborate on what was hard, I said, “Basically, ‘Pose’ means ‘stand still.’  And honestly, neither one of us doggies is good at that!”

Particularly me!  I don’t like “standing still.”  If I have to sit or stand without moving for any period of time, I get antsy.  But I also don’t like to “stand still” mentally, emotionally or spiritually.  I want to be moving towards something.  I want to be working on something.  I want to be growing in deeper understanding or appreciation of what’s going on in the world around me.  I don’t want to just “stand still.”

And that’s probably why I never react well to these Advent readings which tell me about the importance of “waiting.”  Like that “pose” command, I know why it’s important.  But so often, “wait” is like “pose” – it feels like it means “stand still.”  And because I don’t want to stand still, I resist the call to “wait.”

And yet, often the call to “wait” doesn’t mean “stand still.”  It’s much more active than that.  Indeed, it does mean that we shouldn’t just charge off into the house and track mud all over the place.  But, for example, in the reading from 2 Peter today, “waiting” seems to be less about standing still than it is about:

  • actively investing yourself in what God is calling you to do right now … (“hastening the coming of the day of God” doesn’t mean we can speed up God, but that verb means to be part of the preparation right now (for example, the shepherds “make haste” to go and see the thing that God has done – it’s not that they can make Jesus grow up faster or speed up God’s plan of salvation; but they can be part of the preparation in an active way right now…)
  • appreciating the gift of time … (“Regard the patience of our Lord as salvation” means that God wants us to see time as opportunity… these days, the thing we often need most is more time! And Peter writes that part of waiting is seeing the extra time not as wasted time for standing still, but as an opportunity that God gives us to think and plan and consider how we can invest ourselves more fully in the lives of others and in addressing the challenges to which God calls us…)
  • becoming people who grow in hope and confidence each day … (there have been plenty of things in my life, and probably also in yours, for which we’ve waited in vain.  It hasn’t happened, at least not in a way we wanted it to happen.  But one of the points of this season of waiting is to remember that God’s promises always do arrive in the end, and that waiting for God is NOT “wait and see” for something that might never come; and part of waiting is investing ourselves in deepening our relationship with God so that we can grow in hope and confidence in God’s presence and help, even and especially when everything else around us seems to be falling apart…)

Now of course, there are places in the Bible where “wait” does indeed mean “stand still” until God does something… (there was that time when the people of Israel had to stand still and wait for the sea to be parted!)  And sometimes, as much as I might not like it, “waiting” involves standing still.

But often, “waiting” is a much more active thing.  And in this season of Advent, we should remember that “waiting” is often about investing ourselves in doing things that give others in our world a foretaste of the coming kingdom of God for which we wait.  “Waiting” is not about wasting time, but using time wisely to think and plan and prepare for things that we feel God is calling us to do in the near future.  And most importantly, “waiting” is an opportunity to deepen our relationship with God and with each other, so that together we continue to grow in the kind of connections which nurture the hope and strength we need as we wait for the fullness of God’s promises.