It isn’t difficult for me to identify with the theme of waiting throughout the Advent season. I am someone who is always longing for someone or something. Longing is a part of who I am. It carries me into the mystery of the day. It fills my heart with hope, birthing dreams and desires within me. It feeds my determination and drive. Of course, there is a dark side to longing. Sometimes it leads to obsession. Sometimes it’s difficult to live in the present. Sometimes I even self-sabotage to get back into a state of longing. But overall, longing usually serves me well, as long as it doesn’t pull me out of the intimacy that is always attainable in the present.
The thing about longing, though, is that it inevitably involves waiting, for I cannot simply grab hold of all my bursting dreams, bottomless desires, and deep convictions in a day. Richard Rohr defines suffering as “whenever we are not in control,” and in the heights of my longing and the depths of my waiting, I realize how little control I actually have. A longing soul is probably in for a lifetime of suffering—and, to be honest, part of me doesn’t mind it.
This Advent, however, I’ve been trying to approach my own longing and waiting more contemplatively. The question that keeps rising to the forefront of my mind is a simple one: What are you waiting for? As I seek to honestly answer this, I often find my responses to be rather worldly. For example, I recently completed a project that is important to me, and I long for it to be successful. But what does “success” even mean? If I gauge success through the lens of affirmation or affection or even rejection, then, one, I cheapen the authenticity of my own creative efforts, and, two, set myself up to be disappointed and empty.
I find that what I’m often waiting for in my life is similar thematically to the Jewish people’s waiting before Jesus came onto the scene: for a conquering king and messiah to rise up, overthrow the Roman empire, and lead their tribe to victory. Though I cannot relate to the unfathomable level of their oppression, I can relate to their perception of success. The Christmas story, however, conveys a spiritual and psychological shift as it pertains to longing and waiting. Ronald Rolheiser writes: "The cross reveals the power of God in this world, a power that is never the power of a muscle, a speed, a brilliance, a physical attractiveness, or a grace which simply leaves you no other choice but to acknowledge its superiority and bend your knee in obeisance. The world’s power works this way, movies end that way. God’s power is the power of exousia, a baby that lies helpless, muted, patient, beckoning for someone to take care of it. It’s this power that lies at the deepest base of things and will in the end, gently, have the final say.”
What’s more important than attaining power or prestige or victory is for something vulnerable, true, loving, and joyful to be born within you. The former is motivated by the ego. The latter is motivated by spirit. As Thomas Moore writes in The Soul of Christmas, Christmas is “all about the mystery by which you become a real person rather than part of the crowd. A real child is born within you.”
What are you waiting for? What is being born within you this Christmas?