The Bishop's Advent Message
Bishop Susan reflects on the spiritual discipline and gift of waiting
Posted November 25, 2020
An Advent Message from the Bishop of Niagara
The Right Reverend Susan Bell
It seems the whole world is holding its breath these days waiting for this pandemic to be over; waiting for normality to return; waiting to live again. We’ve been in a state of waiting since March and it’s hard work.
And so we could be forgiven for thinking: ‘just what we need, a whole season dedicated to waiting – within a whole season of waiting.’
Queue the deep sigh.
But stay with me for a few moments and let me tell you about how waiting can be a gift because I think it will help.
After all, as Christians we have two whole seasons dedicated to waiting in the church year: Advent and Lent. And in all honesty, we live as those who wait upon the Lord’s return at the end times. We live, as St. Paul says, in “the already and the not yet.” Christians, from time immemorial, have carved out time to wait with intentionality and with purpose.
Waiting, it seems, is a core Christian discipline.
The more you think about it, the more that statement is true.
Advent itself is a season of gestation, of creation, and of preparation. We are literally waiting for a birth – the creation groans in labour pains as we wait for the One who will unite heaven and earth: Jesus. We women know well how to wait creatively like this; waiting in this sense is anything but holding our breath – it is active and creative.
This season also mirrors the other ‘waitings’ in scripture: the Israelites waiting for 40 years in the wilderness to pass over into the promised land. Jesus’ own temptation in the wilderness for 40 days. None of these were passive times – they are full of activity – full of preparation.
As we approach the Feast of the Nativity of Jesus, waiting and dwelling in the words of the birth narrative gives us the chance to recall other words and to make sense of foretellings past. Think of Anna and Simeon waiting expectantly in the Temple for the arrival of the child Jesus because of the prophecies of the suffering servant who will deliver Israel. Think of Elizabeth waiting for the birth of the Baptist because of the angel’s foretelling – and Zechariah, who, while he was waiting for the return of his voice had a great deal of time to think about the angel Gabriel’s prophecies with regard to his infant son. And think of Mary – waiting for the birth of her precious baby boy and preparing a place in her heart for this special child who would change the world he’d entered into.
And in faith we do the same. In our beautiful tradition of Nine Lessons and Carols – we trace the arc of salvation history – from all that the prophets had foretold to the fulfillment of their prophecy in Jesus. We also take time in our Advent waiting to find ourselves within that story as well. We trace the faith that is born within us anew as we consider again the fact that God became human to show us what God’s love looks and feels like and how that love can transform this world through us.
So, you can see that there is a tremendous amount of value and activity within the waiting, I guess we could call it active waiting. We do this waiting together – as a church - and it changes us.
Waiting is holy ground. It is not easy, nor passive, but it is pregnant with meaning and promise. This time of waiting gives gifts: time and space for the contemplation of God’s word, God’s promises and God’s faithful action; time for deepening relationships, and dedicated space to hear God’s voice leading us forward into a future shaped by the waiting.
And so I pray that you have a blessed Advent, and a fruitful waiting. May God bless you richly this Advent and gift you with new life at Christmas.