Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Waiting vigilantly

First Sunday of Advent Year B

No one likes waiting, seriously. The proliferation of instant foodstuffs on supermarket shelves, speedy internet connections, online banking is evidence of it. Who likes to wait in long lines and be subjected to the humiliation of having to wait your turn? No, we simply have no time for waiting. When we are forced to wait, we believe that there is something seriously wrong with the system or the device. When an elevator takes a long to time to arrive, we give the button another series of rapid jabs. Waiting drives us crazy. So we fight it. Rushing, running, planning, speeding, doing. Instant gratification is our answer to waiting. Waiting time is wasted time, and none of us can afford to waste even a minute.  

But didn’t our parents and today’s parents still teach us how to wait patiently. They say things like – “No, not now, you can have that when you're older.” “Just wait a while and I'll get it for you.” “Wait until your birthday.” “Wait a bit, and just be patient.” “Wait, don’t open your present yet. Wait, don’t start singing Christmas carols yet. It isn’t Christmas!” But if the last example is anything to go by, waiting is a hard lesson to learn.

So what do we do when God asks us to wait? We do what we do when anyone else asks us to wait. We fight it. We rebel. When God asks us to wait we respond by doing. We transfer our busy-ness from the life of the world into the life of the Kingdom. We begin to interpret our busy-ness as being busy with the work of the Kingdom. We fight God’s call to wait because we mistakenly define waiting as worthlessness, as waste, as doing nothing. But what if we’re wrong? What if there is merit in waiting, even grace?

Advent is a time of waiting. But how are we to wait? It is important to note that this kind of waiting is not waiting passively. On the contrary, waiting for God is an active waiting. It requires not that we do nothing, but that we do only what we can do. Waiting actively means not trying to do God’s work for Him. For those who faithfully waited for God’s defining intervention in liberating Israel from its woes, God broke into the world in a new and unexpected way. The Word became flesh - that was never expected to be part of the deal. Active waiting requires profound humility – we must know our limits. We cannot set the timetable, we cannot determine the action plan, we cannot dictate the solution. Which, in turn, requires slowing down, listening and making ourselves vulnerable to God’s will and plans. Therefore, waiting makes us keep in step with God’s timing, to prepare us for what He wants to give us in life, and to sift our motives.

Active waiting requires us to do exactly what Jesus tells his disciples today, “Be on your guard, stay awake, because you never know when the time will come.” Our Church year begins with this Gospel that makes a call for vigilant waiting, since the time of the Lord’s coming is uncertain. Notice here that Christmas has a firm date, but the Lord’s coming into our life and death, into the life and consummation of the Church does not. It is as if, the Church, through the liturgical year, provides us with this constant caution and exhortation, that Advent could be at any time, at any place, and on any occasion. And so we must always be on our guard, we must always be awake, because we will never be able to predict when the Lord will come and where we must give an account of the time and opportunities that have been entrusted to us.

In today’s gospel, Jesus gives us a parable about a man who goes on a journey. He doesn’t tell his servants where he is going or when he will come home again. He leaves his servants in charge of his home and property and gives them work to do while he is away. He then leaves and his last word to his servants as he closes the front door is to be diligent and ready for his return, whenever that might be.

There is an element of danger implicit in this parable. From this and other, similar teachings of Jesus we learn that danger may come from without or within. The danger that comes from without is often represented by the darkness of night and the grim possibility that some robber, under cover of the darkness, will dig through the earthen walls of the house to steal what is inside. This is representative of the very real, destructive evil of sin in our world. The danger that comes from within is the danger of becoming lax about one's behaviour or becoming indifferent to the danger or to the master's return - perhaps becoming drunk, mistreating the other servants, or both. Whatever the source of the danger, the only effective approach is to be alert, careful - watchful. At one level, it means that we need to be watchful against our sworn enemy the devil, to guard against sin and the occasions of sin. To be watchful also means doing the work the Master has assigned us to do. Though, we may all have different responsibilities and duties, each have to be accountable to the Master over that which has been assigned to him or to her. 

We are in the time between Jesus’ first and second comings and Jesus has told us to watch and wait, doing the jobs he has given us to do. As we do unto others as he did unto us; when we give food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, give clothes to the poor and visit those who are sick or in jail; as we make disciples of all nations, we are working and waiting for Christ’s return. We may not know the date, time or circumstances of his return. But one thing that we can know from the scriptures -  Jesus will return, and like the servant in the parable, his absence must not lull us into forgetting about the master and what he wants us to do, but to actively wait and be prepared for whenever that moment of his arrival might be.

So, let us wait with great expectancy and hope. The work of the kingdom of God, the work of the Master has been entrusted to you and me, his servants. And he expects us to be faithful servants. There is little point in worrying and fretting over when the master will return. Neither should we be lulled into a complacency that would dull our sense of readiness for his return. The most important concern we have is that we faithfully carry out the work he has given us to do so that when he does return he will find us faithfully working on those tasks he has given us. As faithful servants, we must “wait.” Yes, we must “wait,” for to wait is the mark of obedience, the expression of humility, and the sign of our willingness to do the Master’s will.

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