Advent: The starts and stops of waiting

The progress has been moving through stages of starts and stops for weeks now.

Stage 1: It's time! We're going to do the house project!... Wait for weeks while the contractor goes through the back and forth of getting a permit from what is apparently a very picky city office.

Stage 2: Wow! Look at that! A whole segment of our house was just torn down in a matter of hours!... Wait for what seems like forever for the late fall rains to stop so the ground will be stable enough for digging.

Stage 3: Hooray! They are digging the foundation!... Wait for the cement workers to have an opening to build the walls... wait for the city to come inspect the stability... wait for the walls to be fortified before filling the dirt back in... Oh, and wait for the rain again. Walk out the door to a huge dirt/mud pile sitting in the driveway for the entirety of this stage.

Stage 4: Look at that! They are building walls!

The temptation now, in the progress of this stage, is to forget the stops that will come after this start. There is such obvious movement now. After all, framing is actually a pretty fast process of house building, relatively speaking. But there are sure to be more weather events out of our control, or delays because of the holidays. There are also times coming where the work being done, like running electrical lines, is important, but more hidden.

What will be tempting next, in the waiting of this stage, will be to forget the progress that will come after the delays . 

Waiting is not static. It runs through cycles of hope and despair, forward movement and frustrating stillness. We anguish that the quiet stage we are is the place we will die, never seeing the end of the wait. We get pulled onto the momentum train, wishing for the wait to end sooner than is possible.

This is the struggle of Advent. Christ has already come, and yet, Christ is still coming. We celebrate God's redemptive work in ourselves and in friends who have found new futures we wouldn't have thought possible. We learn about the systematic injustices pushing people down and wonder how we might ever start to climb out of this pit. We see a beautiful sunset and marvel at a God who takes our breath away. We see death and pain and sorrow and sickness and lament to a God who seems too inactive. Already and not yet. Our faith cycles through times of feeling either word more tangibly than the other.

That's what waiting feels like. That's what Advent feels like.

I wonder if this Christmas, we can let ourselves feel both. Experiencing the joy of celebration does not mean we are callous to the pain of oppression. Lamenting the brokenness of a  messed up world does not mean we have to forfeit the simple pleasures of playful presents and delicious food. 

What helps me bear the starts and stops waiting is not ignoring the feelings of either, but by releasing my grip on the outcome. There is so much of life that is beyond my control, weather patterns being chief among them. No matter what I do, I cannot make the end come at a certain time or in a particular way. So holding the process with tight-fisted stubbornness does me no good.

The best I can do is to be fully me, to rest where I should, to engage where I can, and to let things unfold as they will. And to pray, pray, pray to a God who is good and trustworthy.

Wherever life finds you this Advent, I hope you can do the same.