The cable television provider that serves the rectory was purchased recently by another company. The new owner of the service spent quite a lot of time and money to assure their new customers of better service than the previous owner provided. The sincerity of their claims should have been a warning sign for me.
Since the acquisition by the new provider, the quality of the television transmission and the speed of the cable box have declined to the point of being imperceptible. A few nights ago I found myself giving serious consideration to making a set of shadow puppets to provide entertainment for the evening. Watching cable tv has morphed into watching a little circle spin perpetually in place, while the television provider decides whether I’m sufficiently worthy of television programming at that particular point in time.
Unfortunately for me, my exasperation with the cable company has bled over into other areas of my life. When I read the Scriptures for the First Sunday of Advent, and saw that the message this week was about patient expectation, I had to wonder if the cable company was the author of those scriptural texts. Eventually, I decided that this wasn’t the case because it is easier to get an answer to prayer than an answer from the cable provider’s Customer Service department.
In the second reading Paul wrote to the church members in Rome that “our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” (Romans 13:11) In the Gospel reading Jesus said, “you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” (Matthew 24:44) The Day of the Lord is near, but not here yet. We have to wait, but I’m not certain that I can wait any longer for the fulfillment of God’s promises.
How many Advent seasons have we endured, with no real change in sight? There will be an end to our lives, but will there be an end to our waiting? Perhaps, we should give up the waiting, and get (out of church, and), back to our lives as quickly as possible. That was certainly the attitude of the people who watched Noah build the Ark. They were amused briefly, but eager to get on with their lives. They did so, but only until the rain started; by then, they were out of time entirely.
Science tells us that time is a reflection of the continuous expansion (and aging), of the universe. Strangely, we don’t experience time as an evenly metered expansion. Time occurs to us either as something that passes too quickly (like the years of our youth), or too slowly (like the waiting we must do inevitably for every good thing in life.) Checking your watch seems only to make time move more slowly, while not paying attention to the calendar seems to speed up the passage of the months and years.
What are we waiting for? If we’re waiting for warring nations actually to “beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks” (Isaiah 2:4), then we’re going to be here for a while. That is not an activity that any nation seems ready to begin. Some of you are probably waiting for Mass to be finished; you’ll be disappointed to learn that we have about forty more minutes to go.
Why wait? Let me offer a suggestion. The things that all of us want most will never happen in this life. More than anything, I want to live in a world where God’s Name is revered by all, love never fades away and everyone is treated with respect. A strain of Jewish spirituality says that the end of time will come when all people forsake idolatry to worship the One, True God. If this is the case, there is no danger of the world ending during our lifetimes.
Waiting is inevitable. We wait to eat. We wait at traffic lights. We wait for the arrival of Christmas. You are waiting for me to finish this homily. Waiting is unavoidable, but not all waiting is created equal. Some waiting is a waste of time (Cable Company, I hope you’re reading this!) Some waiting is productive, and even transformative.
Advent, a season of patient expectation, intends to help us see the many obstacles that exist between us and God. One of the benefits of waiting, of having under-utilized time, is that one begins to pay attention to the details of one’s environment. Those who are very attentive to the way they live will inevitably be confronted by their many wants, worries and concerns. I suggest that the many things that we seek and want are nothing more than obstacles to God’s will; the things we expect to happen as soon as possible are merely distractions from what God is doing in our lives and in the world.
The benefit of waiting for the fulfillment of God’s will is that the waiting clears away the obstacles that prevent us from encountering God. For many people, this time of year is a season of wanting, searching, even coveting – all of these become obstacles that prevent the possibility of encountering God. For this reason, the Advent season is a necessary reminder to wait on God’s initiative, to clear away everything that prevents us from following God’s will and to waste time with God.
Why should we wait? We should wait because it is a complete waste of time that puts us fully in God’s presence.