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Waiting for the Lord

Wednesday, December 06, 2006
Wednesday 1 of Advent - 6 December 2006

Readings: Isaiah 25:6-10; Psalm 22; Matthew 15:29-37

How can we explain the relativity of time? Well, if I am rushing to catch a plane and am delayed because the official at the check-in is slow, those extra two minutes don’t make much difference to him, but they really make a difference to me!

It is at this time of year that our sense of time is tested to the limit. The church closes her year and begins it at a time when the days are darkening into nothing and time and life seem to be fading on us. Last week, as the year ended, we heard in the scripture about the last times, the coming of the Son of Man, the ‘day of the Lord’ as the prophets call it. This week… well, we are still waiting, looking forward to ‘that day’ when the Lord will provide a ‘feast of fat things’ on his holy mountain (Is. 25:6-10).

Still waiting. Our sense of time transforms when we’re waiting. I’m sure the feeling is familiar: as the minutes pass and the hoped-for friend is still absent, our emotions pass from waiting in joyful hope, to annoyance, to anxiety, to (angry) resignation at the ‘no-show’. The minutes grow, filling the space left by the absentee: impatience, frustration is all we experience and finally, as the expected friend does not materialise, we give up. Time’s facade of relativity is not our friend at this (time?) point: the longer we wait, the heavier the time seems. We’re not good at waiting.

Jesus knows our failure at waiting. At his darkest moment, in the mental anguish of his waiting for the passion, he asked us to be near, to wait with him.
'I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me…’
But we couldn’t,
‘So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak…’ (Mt. 26:38, 40f)

Waiting and praying. Chastened by this scene in the garden, Bishop Fulton Sheen tried to spend an hour in meditation before the Blessed Sacrament each day: ‘could you not stay with me one hour?’ But prayerful waiting is difficult, impossible even; particularly when we ‘do not know the day or the hour’ when the Master is coming (Mt. 24:36; 25:13).

And yet, Jesus asks us to wait – for him, for ‘the hour’. ‘Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour…’ (Mt 24:44). And this is the time of year when that waiting comes into full focus; when the weight of time’s relativity falls hard upon us. We are now preparing for Christmas… yes; for celebrating the event of our salvation that the prophets foretold and which unfolded 2,000 years ago. But we are also in that Christian time-delay known as the ‘already and the not yet’, waiting still for what seems to have already happened. Waiting for the Lord to come. How difficult is that?!

Loyalty to the ‘absent friend’ can be a painful burden; the weight of time something the psalmist felt.
'My tears have become my bread,
by night, by day:
as I hear it said all the day long,
‘Where is your God?’ (Ps. 42:3)

Again this ridicule may be a familiar experience. And like with our truant friend we start to ask, where is he? Where is God?

God never went anywhere: Jesus Christ is not an absentee Lord. In this truth of God’s love for the world we find the meaning of waiting, of praying, of resting in him. We exist because God is always making us to exist – keeping us in being. God is always at hand, for he never changes, he is always new. Our problem with time has no bearing on God which is why Christians are presented with their ‘already but not yet’. The eternity of God admits of no sense of time’s disclosure.

How are we to wait for him who has come and who was always present anyway? We are waiting for the Lord it is true. We are waiting expectantly for Jesus as he asks us to: ‘stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour’ (Mt. 25:13). We do not know the hour because the advent of the kingdom takes us out of time’s burden. As we are told by the second letter of Peter:
'What we are waiting for is what he promised: the new heavens and new earth, the place where righteousness will be at home ' (2 Pet. 3:13f)

So the apocalyptic visions of the old year coincide with the hopeful expectancy of the new, because time no longer(!) constrains the Lord. We watch, pray, stay awake for this moment: - when changing, time-bound creation becomes present to the unchanging, always new God, in ‘the new heavens and new earth’.

But this prayerful watching can often feel like a burden: minutes growing in the sleepy heaviness of time – when at Mass, in choir, listening to a talk(!); especially in silent prayer. The disciples were the same.
'And once more Jesus came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him' (Mk 14:40)

This, from men who heard, saw with their eyes and touched with their hands the word of life (1 Jn 1.1). What chance then do we have? By remembering God’s background to our being: his unchanging presence. Expectant, communicative meditation is simply taking the time to do nothing else but be with God; to wait with him; being aware that we are always in his company and setting aside some time to respond to that love.
'You did not see him, yet you love him; and still without seeing him, you are already filled with a joy so glorious that it cannot be described, because you believe' (1 Pet. 1:8)

It is preparation for release from the constraints of time.

So, the one who is to come can be the one who has come and the one who has always been involved. The nostalgia, the relativity of time and its painful waiting is all on our part; it is our problem. A problem nevertheless, God came to share: ‘can you not wait with me one hour?’ By responding to Jesus’s command to keep awake with him we can say with Isaiah on ‘that day’:
'Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation' (Is. 25:9)


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