“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen” (Rev. 22:20-21).
The Bible concludes with this great historic cliffhanger. The first time Jesus came to this world he ensured us he’d come again to finish what he started. We are left on Scripture’s last page with two basic claims about the course of history and the fate of this world: Christ has come. Christ will come again. We are, at present, between the times. History has taken the shape of a promise and faith has taken the shape of waiting.
Jesus once said, “Be like those who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes” (Lk. 12).
Waiting is hard work. Jesus described it here as the kind of work that allows us to hear, the work of listening intently. It’s like children with their ears pressed against the bedroom door on Christmas morning waiting for mom and dad to get out of bed, (miraculously) quieting themselves enough to hear movement on the other side. The blessing in Jesus’ parable comes to those who proved to be waiting for their Master simply by opening the door at his arrival—they could 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, toil and labor, 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. No waiting necessary. Just Google it.
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 so made satisfaction widely and immediately 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. It could be indicative of the fact that we have mastered the art of being, in T.S. Eliot’s words, “distracted from distraction by distraction” (“Four Quartets”).
We are occupied and preoccupied with stuff that keeps us busy enough to never have to confront the hollowness we discover in the silence, when we quiet ourselves enough to listen for any movement from God from the other side. Perhaps we’re afraid to press our ear against the door, because the first thing you inevitably hear in the silence is silence. When confronted by an outer silence we are in turn confronted with an inner disquietedness, that restlessness that drives us to all our clanging and banging around. The sound of silence, for some reason, feels like alienation, like we are alone in the cosmos, like a Presence is missing from our presence.
It’s hard to have the faith of a child these days. It’s hard to believe that God will ever awake from his slumber. And so any encounter with the silence leaves us to anxiously wonder if, in fact, there is nothing happening on the other side, if there is no one coming from the other side. 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. But there is no Christmas without Advent anymore than their is Easter Sunday without Good Friday. Whatever else Christmas is about, Advent assumes it is about two things that our culture knows nothing about: having a Master and having to wait. Indeed, Christmas is only worth celebrating because Christmas is coming again. And if it is not, if He is not, we should simply find a new home where we can sleep in the master bedroom, so we can be comfortable as we grow old.
But He is coming again. There movement on the other side. We just need to begin to listen to our deepest longings, and that takes a little peace and quiet so that the naive and childlike hopes of the Christmas promise can well up from within us without getting repressed by our inner scrooge or avoided through the remote control. We have to allow the grandiosity of the Christmas promise, and our longing for it, to move our ear against the door to wait for a movement almost too good to be true, so good that it no one could bring it but God alone—for universal peace, for eternal joy, for a family embrace across all tribes, tongues, and nations, for the reunion of all lost sons and daughters, for restoration of a broken world and resurrection of broken bodies. We have to allow that all-embracing ache that lies at the center of human experience to reveal its true from as the heartache of our eternal homesickness.
If we allow that, however, we are bound by our heartache to resign ourselves to hope, because we do not have the raw materials within ourselves to satisfy that longing, and neither does the whole world and all that is in it. The only comfort for an eternal homesickness is if an eternal Father is on the other side of the door. But that is the claim of our Master, who came to be our brother and lead us to listen at the door with an eternal longing:
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
~ Isaiah 9:6-7
So sit tight, sit still, and lean in to Advent this year. We need it just as much as we need Christmas, because without the waiting—the listening—of Advent, we may never hear Christmas when it comes.
Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus.