Why Advent? Why have Christians, across denominations, been setting aside this formal period of waiting since the 5th century? While external preparations for Christmas increasingly clamor for attention, inner, spiritual hunger in America is drastically increasing. So the inner work of Advent matters. But what is that work?
For many years in the Chapel’s Confirmation classes, we have taught (quoting St. Augustine) that “a sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace.” Although Advent is not a sacrament, it certainly is an outward marking of an internal process which gives us an opportunity for “grace” – an opportunity to experience the love of God in our lives.
As a time of waiting, Advent is a time for paying attention to the powerful virtue of patience. In Luke 21:19, Jesus went so far as to say, “By your patience possess your souls.” (NKJV) Wow! What other incentive do we need to develop patience? But… in real life, it’s not so easy. We want things to happen according to OUR timeframe. Patience is waiting for God’s timing. Mary and Joseph, thrust into circumstances which they couldn’t possibly have anticipated, showed tremendous patience – the willingness to accept God’s timing. Ruth, Hannah, Abraham and David all fulfilled God’s work through patience. Conversely, the Israelites, waiting in the wilderness for Moses to come down from the mountain where God was giving him the Ten Commandments, got impatient and thereby lost their chance to enter “the promised land” – the Kingdom of God – which, as Jesus taught us, “is within you.” (Luke 17:21)
So, in short, I believe the work of Advent is learning to wait for and accept God’s timing in all things. Who knows? Maybe God, too, is waiting – for us to open up to His plan.