This Christmas Eve I found myself bereft of those famous tidings of comfort and joy and instead found myself fit to be tied.
I was waiting in line at the Walgreens Photo Counter on the corner of Pico and Robertson. To make matters worse, I was picking up three Brockhampton posters I had ordered for my seventeen year old daughter who apparently has questionable taste in boy bands. But this mild frustration pales in comparison to the anguish I felt recently waiting to see my new baby niece. Aside from not understanding the delay, my emotions ran the gamut from anticipation to disappointment to rejection to resignation — every five minutes for the past thirty days, that is.
Tonight I was finally able to meet my beautiful niece, and as I was holding her I realized my waiting to see her parallels the waiting we experience this Advent season.
Advent is when Christians prepare for the birth of baby Jesus and marks the first season of the church year. Its hallmark is the waiting. For me, though, Advent loses a bit of its magic with each year. That being said, I am never less desperate for the birth of Christ. Let it be known, I am in great need of a savior! But I find myself to be disenchanted and a tad impatient. This year, however, I have been inspired by the observant Orthodox Jewish community with whom I work each day.
I now try to see this Advent season as a type of new year. But, like most people, Christians especially, I’m terrible at waiting. I’m even worse at waiting again and again for an event that already happened. Jesus was born. It happened. Advent is symbolic. The Orthodox Jewish community, on the other hand, is waiting for something that they believe has yet to happen. And the devotion to it is astounding.
I wonder if we just pretend to wait for Jesus each Advent season. Are the candles and calendars failing us? (My eleven year old’s next-level Advent calendar, for example, offers a new jar of slime each day. Yes, slime.) Not that much sillier than the traditional chocolates, really. And in our gluttony we even prepare for a second coming of our savior while the Jews raise their hands in the back of the room patiently whispering “ahem… we’d be satisfied with just one please.”
It’s remarkable that the Orthodox Jews have waited over 5,000 years for the arrival of the Messiah. And that they keep waiting. Anticipating. Believing. Desiring. In a sense, a perpetual wait at the eternal photo counter at Walgreens, but one that does not melt into indignation. I am unraveled at how joyfully and faithfully the Orthodox Jewish community waits for Moshiac now. But of course, a constant thread in the story of the Jews is patience.
Moses never entered the promised land after waiting forty years; in fact, he died on Mount Nebo overlooking the milk and honey he would never taste. Jacob had better luck although he too waited, laboring seven years for Rachel. Fast forward to Natan Sharansky who waited, praying — and playing chess against himself inside his head — for nine years in a Soviet prison out of stubborn resistance. Refusenik hero of the Soviet Jewry movement, he rebelled against a modern empire, demanding the right to practice his faith as well as emigrate to Eretz Yisrael.
Like Moses, he had to wait; like Moses, he led his people out of oppression; but unlike Moses, he did taste the sweetness of Yerushalayem.
God seems to have a thing for making his children wait. But it’s more than just delayed gratification or a lesson about difficult pleasures. I’ve come to see waiting as a type of fasting. When we wait, we focus. If you’re like me, you fixate and obsess and allow your mind to imagine what’s inside every cardboard photo envelope and poster tube behind that counter at Walgreens, but I digress.
When we have to wait, we suddenly have the uncanny ability to shed the unnecessary stuff that normally distracts us. In a sense, we become children. We grow antsy with expectation. Which is what I think God wants — us seated at His feet in anticipation for all the brachas, or blessings, He has in store for us in His own time. To receive our inheritance as His children.
Waiting, however, is also a quiet act of rebellion. I know I’ve stayed put more times than I would like to admit purely out of spite. Something to the tune of I am going to get this package mailed if it means I close down this post office. And while I like to think the four weeks of Advent are less combative, there is a very real element of determination to hang on from one Sunday candle to the next without falling prey to the consumer culture of Christmas. How can we preserve our identities in Christ surrounded by the darkness of a fallen world… and tinsel? Clearly I didn’t demonstrate it to nineteen-year-old Dylan, the newest member of the Walgreens Photo Team.
Like the Maccabees of the stunning Hanukkah story, however, who fought patiently to secure freedom for the Jews, we can be modern day Maccabees by resisting the urge to give up, lose faith, or walk away from God’s promises. Every day we win and lose spiritual skirmishes. But the real battle is in the waiting. If we redirect our rebellious, impatient hearts toward God by resisting the world and all its lies, our single tiny jar of faith can miraculously light the way for eight days and more. In this, I find great comfort and joy.
Ba’yamim ha’hem, ba’zman ha’zeh. In those days, as in these.