Summary: The times, like those of post-Exilic Jerusalem, require us to wait. Will it be passive, impassive, or active waiting? Active waiting means seeing that what God has done He will do again. God will enlist us and shape us to work for His purposes.
“We wait. We are bored. No, don’t protest, we are bored to death, there’s no denying it. … A diversion comes along and what do we do? We let it go to waste . . . .In an instant all will vanish and we’ll be alone once more, in the midst of nothingness!”
So speaks one of the characters in Samuel Beckett’s play, “Waiting for Godot”. Estragon and Vladimir have to find things to do while they wait for someone named Godot to arrive. They eat, they talk, they play games, they exercise, they sleep, they argue, all of it to hold back the silence that pours into their lives like water into a sinking ship. They do not know this Godot; they only know that they are to wait for him. And so they wait, frustrated. On occasion, they think Godot is here, and they cry out, “We’re saved!” only to discover that they were mistaken. In their desperation, they even talk of ending it all, but ultimately decide to do nothing, because they cannot even remember what it is that they expect Godot to do when he finally does come. They only know that they must wait.
All of us have to wait. None of us gets what we want instantly. Life is process, not just satisfaction. Life is searching, it is guessing, anticipation, hoping, dreaming, waiting. Struggle though we may, waiting is part of life. We must wait.
The issue is in how we wait. What postures, what attitudes do we bring to our waiting?
Do we wait passively? Passive waiting is staring into space, putting our minds in neutral, just waiting. Passive waiters are like those shoppers that turned up at the Wal-Mart on Thanksgiving evening, full of turkey and stuffed with hopes for a bargain. They must have known that the fine print said, “Only fifteen HDTV’s per store at this price”, but they waited anyway, passively, just in case lightning might strike and they take home the bargain. Passive waiters do nothing but wait and hope against hope that they might receive what they want.
Or do we wait impassively? Impassive waiting involves resignation and despair, knowing that what we wait for is never really going to happen. Impassive waiters include the thousands of children in Sudan who wake up each morning even more hungry than they were yesterday. Impassive waiters include the young women pressed into service as sex slaves in Thailand, knowing that each day will bring another humiliation. Impassive waiters include the young people dragged into MS-13 gangs because they see no other way to survive. Impassive waiters turn on sullen faces and develop bitter attitudes, waiting for somebody to deliver them, but knowing it will never happen.
Do we wait passively, do we wait impassively, or do we wait actively? Active waiters take charge of the time spent waiting. Active waiters make the most of the waiting time. Active waiters acknowledge that they do not have or get all that they want, but they believe it is achievable. Active waiters believe that the world around them is something that they can affect; they sense their own worth. And so active waiters pour themselves into educational programs or political campaigns or financial planning or exercise regimens, anything that makes a difference. Active waiters take hold of life and see what has not yet happened as something toward which they can work. Waiting in the active voice and not the passive or the impassive voice is the kind of waiting that affirms life, trusts God, and sees beyond the here and now.
Did you hear Beckett’s characters in “Waiting for Godot”? “We wait. We are bored. No, don’t protest, we are bored to death, there’s no denying it. … A diversion comes along and what do we do? We let it go to waste . . .In an instant all will vanish and we’ll be alone once more, in the midst of nothingness!” What a horrible way to spend your life! What a disastrous way to wait! But that is the way of the world in desperate times. That is the way anxious and frightened people wait, passive, without hope; or impassive in the midst of nothingness.
But that is not the way of Advent. Advent is a time of waiting, but not passive waiting, nor impassive waiting. In Advent healthy souls wait in the active voice, knowing that there is more than boredom, more than diversion, more than waste, and far, far more than nothingness. Advent is a sign of what it means to wait in the active voice.
Come with me to Jerusalem in the 6th Century before Christ. The city is but a shadow of its former glory. Something like sixty years earlier the armies of Babylon had overrun Jerusalem, had taken its people exile, deposed its leaders, and destroyed its economy. For most of those years, those left behind in the city could do nothing more than wait, passively or impassively, for they saw no way out. Oh, some saw a little hope. There was the prophet whose preaching is contained in the 40th through the 55th chapters of the Book of Isaiah; Deutero-Isaiah, the scholars call him. He waited actively for God’s chosen one to appear. But his voice about the Suffering Servant had been a lonely voice. No one else saw what he saw; all of them waited with hollow eyes and sad voices for something, anything, probably for nothing. Their world, they thought, was beyond repair.