Advent is Christmas season in the world outside. Lights are appearing in the streets and houses outside, Santa’s hired some new staff for his mailroom and the debates over who is hosting have a new sense of urgency. Our secular Christmases do not so much start on the 25th December as they end.
A few days ago many of us will have opened Advent calendars, enjoying a pre-Christmas Christmas treat. Christmas really does come early! In churches all over the world trying to keep time with the secular world presents a real problem; we do Christmas when everyone else does New Year. It’s hardly surprising that Advent then is really Nativity season.
Why? Well, waiting is not much fun. Amazon promises next day delivery for a reason. We are told over and over and over that now is the time. YOLO. Carpe Diem. Live in the moment. Christianity’s great counter-cultural claim today though is simply a command; wait.
If your church follows the lectionary, Sunday had as an option Luke 21.25-36. Luke’s Jesus talks of a future time when the Son of Man will come in a cloud with power and great glory, and the disciples can do nothing but wait for it. It’s not the outcome of some spiritual fitness regime. There is nothing the disciples can do to speed things along, and worse they have no time frame, no guide as to how long they’ll have to wait. All the disciples know is that they are called to linger for the Lord.
Our vocations are just like this.
Whether you are pursuing the priesthood, or wondering if your degree is really going to lead to the right job, the right life, vocation is all about waiting. Advent is the perfect time to take stock of that. We are where we need to be, we will end up where we need to be. It might be as you, trainee medic, expect. It might, materials scientist and future minister not be; what it won’t be is realised now. Christian vocation is all about waiting because it isn’t something we fulfilled yesterday, or fulfill today, or will fulfill tomorrow. It’s the work of a lifetime. That’s easier said than lived. Especially so when life is bumpier than we expect, or we seem caught where we do not wish to be.
Traditionally advent is a penitential time as we await the unexpected arrival of a singular man on Christmas Day, 2018 (ish!) years ago. Jesus did not just instruct us to wait for him, he waited too; 30 years for 3 years ministry, for 40 days in the desert and a night that must have felt as long in a Gethsemane.
This year join me in waiting for Christmas. In learning to be content in waiting we will come to better appreciate and recognise our vocations and be thankful for the moments we have rather than wishing for others. And YOLO? In our Father’s house there are mansions; but we will have to wait to find out.
Written by SCM Member Alex Bell, studying at Birkbeck, University of London.