For many, the season of Advent is a time of waiting, of anticipation. In the four weeks preceding Christmas time, Advent is a time set aside to understand waiting and patience… to feel the desire for God’s love more acutely and to know the poignant truth that one is never truly without God’s love.
I work in a retail store, and as a result I see a lot of parents this time of year who are impatient with their children. Even more so, I hear parents imploring their children to “be patient.” “You’ll get to eat that candy bar once we’ve checked out.” This is not patience. This is the calculated assessment that withholding pleasure now will result in benefit later. Don’t do one thing now because the [better] time to do it is later.
Patience, rather, is “the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us” (Henri Nouwen, Finding My Way Home: Pathways to Life and the Spirit, 2001). Last year, I quoted Henri Nouwen on patience. Here is the rest of that quote:
‘Patient living means to live actively in the present and wait there. Impatient people expect the real thing to happen somewhere else, and therefore they want to get away from the present situation and go elsewhere. For them, the moment is empty. But patient people dare to stay where they are, waiting.’
A patient person allows the fullness of creation to be revealed. A patient person does not attempt to guess the future, to riddle the future into becoming their vision for it. A patient person does not merely seek to delay the pleasure of a particular moment or to find their joy at a later date; they are content to discover–to be surprised by–that pleasure in their current situation. In the often-cited “love chapter” of the Bible, we hear that “love is patient…”
This year, I chose to make my Advent wreath in the traditional circular fashion. I used pillar candles so I could light them every day and have time to ponder and be patient. I also chose to forgo the traditional use of evergreens and use dying branches from our backyard.
Traditionally, evergreens point to the eventual coming of Spring; that evergreen trees and bushes stay fresh and lively even during the cold winter months can remind us to “be patient” and wait for the goodness of Christ to arrive. I could not permit myself to place evergreens on my table for this reason: if we are only patient for the sake of some future date (Christmas, Easter, the Second Coming of Christ—our wedding day, our birthday, or the day we buy our first house), then we cannot wait for the goodness of this very moment to reveal itself to us. We will miss it. So, too, with evergreens: if the only purpose of Winter is to remind us how lovely Spring is, then we are not patient at all. If we have evergreens adorn our tables to remind us of a “light [that] shines in darkness, and the darkness [that cannot] overcome it” (John 1:5), then perhaps we do not understand the Light and the Dark of which we speak.
Advent is a season of waiting: of being patient and allowing salvation to be revealed in our current situation. This year, I need to be reminded that Winter times in life are good for more than their contrast to Spring times… they are times when fields lie fallow and when acorns are buried underground, when gray skies make the world look like it is swaddled in mist, when bodies hibernate and restore. Christ–salvation–is present in the center of this circle, symbolically in the Advent wreath and literally in the middle of Winter.
My prayer this Advent season is that we all cultivate patience in our daily lives: toward our coworkers and family members, toward ourselves. Know that God is with you, that nothing (not even the dead of Winter) can separate you from God’s patient love.