It is my favourite time of year, this season of Advent. The anticipation leading up to Christmas is the richest and most exciting time of year for me. Last year, I had the privilege of journeying with Mary while expecting our second child. There is nothing quite as amazing as waiting for the birth of a child, waiting for the seeds of hope, the promise within the womb to be realized.
Advent is about waiting, but not passively waiting for something to happen; rather, it is about actively preparing our hearts for the arrival of Christ. Too often we focus all of our time and energy on decorating the house, baking Christmas cookies, buying gifts and other fanciful Christmas preparations. In the midst of the hustle and bustle, it is easy to forget to reflect on what the season is truly about.
Henri Nouwen, one of my favourite authors, has a whole series of writings on waiting. During Advent, I eagerly pull these out and reflect on what it really means to wait like Elizabeth and Zechariah for their miracle child, or like Mary for the promise and agony of what is to come.
“Waiting, as we see it in the people on the first pages of the gospels, is waiting with a sense of promise. ‘Zechariah, your wife Elizabeth is to bear you a son’ (Luke 1:13, 31). People who wait have received a promise that allows them to wait. They have received something that is at work in them, like a seed that has started to grow. This is very important. We can only really wait if what we are waiting for has already begun for us. So waiting is never a movement from nothing to something. It is always a movement from something to something more.”
As Christians, all of our preparations and the eager anticipation for Christmas festivities mirror a much larger story. The coming of Christ is central to the Christian story; it is neither the beginning nor the end. It is, though, the fulfillment of a sacred promise within the story! Likewise, we wait in remembrance of Christ’s birth and continue to wait for the second coming—or return—of Christ.
“Active waiting means to be present fully to the moment, in conviction that something is happening where you are and that you want to be present to it. A waiting person is someone who is present to the moment, who believes that this moment is the moment.”
Mary did not spend months preparing a baby room or freezing meals, but found herself giving birth to her child in a dark, dirty barn. Yet Mary was not unprepared. We know that she was attentive to God’s voice and was willing to carry his child. We know that she was actively present to the moment, carrying the Saviour of the world within her.
“Waiting, then, is not passive. It involves nurturing the moment, as a mother nurtures the child that is growing within her.”
This Advent, as we wait, let us actively engage and participate in the story. May our hearts be stilled as we wait, wait for something that has already begun and the promise that will come to bear fruit.
Rebecca Penfold of Wellesley Mennonite Church (Ont.) says she has the best job in the world as the mommy of two young girls. She continues to seek God in the waiting places. All quotes in this piece are from Seeds of Hope: A Henry Nouwen Reader, edited by Robert Durback (Image, 1989).
This article was updated on Dec. 14, 2019 to include the main photo.