When COVID-19 started showing up in Canada back in March, I had no idea how long this pandemic would drag on or how it would impact everything from businesses and community organizations, to churches and schools. In March, I had hope that things would sort themselves out before summer. In June, I had hope that I would return to in-person classes and church services in September. In September, I had hope for an end to mandatory self-isolation that made planning for Christmas travel more complicated. Now I sit at home, 2 days into 14 days of self-isolation after moving back to Fredericton from Toronto, and I am tired of hoping, tired of waiting for good news and more than ready to return to some kind of “normal”.
Sunday marked the beginning of the season of Advent. Advent is a season of waiting, when we remember the time that people long ago awaited a Messiah and when we focus on our own awaiting of Christ’s return. Four and a half weeks dedicated to waiting seems like the last thing I need right now. Having spent the last eight months waiting for an end to lockdowns and for things to return to “normal” again, a season dedicated to waiting seems laughable (even if only in a wearisome way). Yet, my faith calls me to examine myself in this time, asking “what am I really waiting for?”
In the past eight months my waiting has been focused on human institutions, public health guidelines, universities, medical researchers, businesses, and politicians. During Advent, the focus of my waiting shifts from the brokenness of the world, to our Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer. Although I continue to await an available vaccine and an end to travel restrictions, Advent reminds me that what I’m really waiting for is the Kingdom of God to come in its fullness. Longing for time with family and friends, for an end to sickness and poverty, for peace of mind and an end to fear. These longings are just smaller pieces of my longing for God to reign in truth, love and peace over all, which is in fact the longing of all creation (Romans 8:20-21).
Shifting the focus of my waiting is hard. News stories and social media constantly draw my attention back to the waiting that happens in the world. It’s hard to turn from those stories to consider the Christmas story which seems so far away in time, space and perhaps even in meaning from our own lived experiences. I think that’s ok. We don’t need a radical break from the stories and waiting of the world, after all, these stories do affect our lives. What we need is to learn to see these stories in their context, to see this waiting as part of the longer period of waiting for Christ to come and make all things new.
Recognizing how my longing and waiting fits into the larger story of creation’s longing and all of history awaiting the fullness of God’s kingdom renews a sense of hope in me as I’m drawn into a circle of relatives and friends who wait with me and keep watch when I become weary. It doesn’t immediately fix the feelings of grief, anxiety, disappointment or frustration, but it reminds me that I don’t have to sit in these feelings alone. I can bring these feelings and experiences into the presence of God and my neighbours. Together we can recall the story of God’s love breaking into the world as a child and remember that, though we may not always see it, God’s love continues breaking through each day in our individual and collective lives.
So, as you face the weeks of waiting ahead, I encourage you to find ways situate your experience of waiting within the cosmic waiting. Practice Advent in your home with candles, calendars, readings or special decorations. Find creative ways to pray for the world, recognizing those places where people are experiencing injustice and hardship, longing for Christ to
return with peace and righteousness. Talk about your longing and grief with a close friend or family member, seek out a pastor, counsellor or mentor with whom you can share your experience of waiting. Remember that Advent, this season of waiting, is a collective waiting that will end in the hope, peace, joy and love of Christ reigning over all the universe.