This year’s Thanksgiving Day falls on the latest possible date: Nov. 28. We have to wait for it through almost the entire month of November, and that is good preparation for the more important waiting we are about to do. On Sunday, Dec. 1, we will enter the season of Advent, the time of preparation for the fulfillment of God’s promise, the coming of the Savior.
It took a long time for that promise to be fulfilled. The readings and hymns of Advent express beautifully the desire and longing of humanity for the Savior who is to come. In our part of the world, nature itself reflects the deepening sense of need, of hope struggling against despair: the days grow shorter, darkness consumes more of our waking hours, people’s spirits seem to sink with the ever-earlier sunset.
We know, of course, that the light will return, and more important, that the Light will come. All we have to do is wait. That’s where I falter.
I’m not good at waiting. If I need something, I want it now, whether it’s tangible, like lunch, or intangible, like information on the Internet. If the traffic light is red, I want it to turn green immediately. If I’m stuck in a slow-moving line at the supermarket, I glance around for a line that’s moving faster. Wherever I go I bring plenty of reading material just in case—perish the thought!—I have to wait.
If my parents had copied the Pilgrims’ custom of naming children for virtues, and had called me “Patience,” they would have stuck “Im” in front of it before I was out of pinafores.
To judge from casual observation, I have company. A lot of people seem to be in a hurry. I always wonder why they’re rushing, and sometimes I’m tempted to think that whatever errand they’re on, mine is more important.
So it’s no wonder that I have a special place in my heart for the season of Advent. I know that it’s exactly what I need, although I know also that it calls me to change, and that won’t be easy. But that is why the world awaited the Savior with longing: because humanity knew it needed to change.
Advent calls us to trust in God and to be humble and patient. When I find myself rushing mindlessly and exaggerating the importance of whatever I have to do, I will know I need to stop and recall the Lord’s command: “Be still and know that I am God.”
It is humbling, yet also comforting, to remember that I am not the one who is in control. God is.
When I am sitting at a red light counting the seconds until it changes, I will think about the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. What patience it must have taken to make that trip, on foot or by donkey, with Mary nine months pregnant and so many others on the road because of the census. How many in our own time are on the road because of persecution or poverty? Do I really have a right to complain? No, I simply need to be sensible enough to start earlier and leave more time to get where I’m going.
On the First Sunday of Advent, sometime after sunset, I will turn off the lights, strike a match and light a purple candle on my Advent wreath. I will recite a traditional prayer from a decades-old Advent booklet. And I will think about how much the world, and I, need the Savior to deliver us from sin and forgive us and fill us with his grace. I will think about Jesus, the Savior, who is to come, and I will balance the joy of anticipation with the knowledge that He is already at work in the world, and He needs you and me to bring His light and His truth into the darkened places where people struggle to be patient and good, and sometimes succeed and sometimes fail.
I am starting, of course, with myself.