“Be ready for action, and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed is the slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives” (Lk. 12:35-38).
Waiting is hard work. Jesus described it here as the kind of work that allows us to hear. Like children with ears pressed against the bedroom door on Saturday morning waiting for mom and dad to get out of bed, it’s a kind of quiet anticipation. It’s called listening. The blessing in the parable comes to those whose work is proved simply by opening the door–they heard the knock from the other side.
This kind of listening is hard work because our kind of world is hard of hearing.
We live loud lives: wake up, screen on, eat and run, text and drive, bounce around, fast food, back home, screen back on, plate on lap, back to bed, earbuds in, wake up; rinse and repeat. We have one-click shopping. Pay phones have gone the way of the dodo. The Internet doesn’t make that intergalactic fax machine noise anymore. Now, it could be that all this on-demand efficiency is evidence of a culture that has discovered all that satisfies the longings of the soul—and made it all extremely available. Or it could be just the opposite. It could be an indication that we have found exactly nothing that satisfies our longings. It could be an indication that we’ve just resorted to an abundance of stuff that does not satisfy.
We are occupied and preoccupied with stuff that keeps us busy enough to never have to confront the hollowness we discover in the silence. Perhaps we’re afraid to press our ear against the door and do the work of listening, because the first thing we hear when we listen is precisely nothing. And when that is what we hear, we have to wonder if it is because nothing is there on the other side. We have to wonder whether God is dead or we are dying. And this makes us anxious. So we fill our lives with things do, places to go, a world to produce, a world to consume, a world to possess. And so in our efforts to consume an abundance of satisfaction we are consumed by an abundance of distraction–anything to avoid listening to the silence.
But shouldn’t the Church, of all people, have a different response to the silence? Shouldn’t the silence of Good Friday shape our longings more than racket of Black Friday?
The slaves in the parable who opened the door did so because they heard the knock, but the reason they heard the knock is that they were “waiting for their master to return.” It’s no surprise that the secular world celebrates our Christmas but wants nothing to do with our Advent. Whatever else we might think Christmas is about, Advent assumes it is about one thing: waiting for our master to return. Indeed, Christmas is only worth celebrating because Christmas is coming again.
This means that the one thing Advent happens to be about involves the two things our culture knows nothing about: having a master and having to wait. But that is surely because our culture, with which we are all too often complicit, has given up waiting on the things we long for most deeply. Perhaps if we allowed ourselves to listen to the grandiose size of our most basic longings—for universal peace, for boundless joy, for belonging across all tribes, tongues, and nations, for the reunion of all lost sons and daughters, for wholeness of a broken world and every broken heart, our longing for that all-embracing ache that lies at the center of human experience for we know not what—perhaps if we would listen to these basic longings we would begin to understand that we do not have the raw materials within ourselves to satisfy our most basic longings. And neither does the whole world and all that is in it. And when we can recognize that, we will have no choice but to wait. In that case, blessed will we be when our Master finds us ready to greet him at the door.
And that is indeed why we need Advent as much as we need Christmas—without the waiting, the listening, of Advent, we may never hear Christmas arrive.
Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus.