27 November 2005

Waiting and waiting well...

First Sunday of Advent (2005): Is 63.16-17, 64.2-7; I Cor 1.3-9; Mark 13.33-37
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, University of Dallas

The priory coffeemaker is insufferably slow. I have to use the single-cup, express machine. I can recite just about the entire creed waiting for the doors of the priory elevator to open and close. Pushing that little “close door” button makes me feel in control, but I don’t think it’s connected to anything. And I’ve discovered a new species of humanoid living in Irving: we’ve had homo erectus, homo sapiens, and now we have homo cellus phonus—a species of humanoid incapable of driving a car w/o a cell phone stuck to its ear. A habit that apparently robs the poor creatures of colored sight. They seem incapable of recognizing red from yellow from green at traffic lights. Yes, Father has Patience Issues. I bet you do too.

So, let me ask you this question: do you wait well? I mean, are you able to pause in your day and give control of your time to something or someone else? A machine (the reluctant computer, the lazy coffeemaker, the elevator in no hurry at all) or a person (the cashier discussing his break time with a coworker, the SUV driver chatting on the cell phone stopped at the green light)? Can you hold your yourself in suspension, just stop and let something or someone else’s agenda, their needs, their wants, their time take precedence? Because that’s what waiting is. Waiting is what I (we do) do when I bring myself to acknowledge that my agenda, my needs, my wants, my time are subject to change, subject to the whims and quirks of other people, the random workings of machines, the weather, and the markets. Pretty much any and everything out there that can run interference on my plans does so, and so I wait, giving over to the hard fact that I am subject to other people, other things.

That we wait is a given. The only question is: how well do we wait? Waiting well is what we are given the chance to do during Advent. And we start in earnest today.

Just in case any of us holds the opinion that Advent is a season of joy, a pre-season of cheeriness gearing up for the Real Cheer of Christmas, we have on this First Sunday of Advent a sobering reminder of exactly what Advent is. From Isaiah we have this confession: we are sinful, an unclean people, even our good deeds are like polluted rags; we are dried up like autumnal leaves, and our guilt carries us away like a wind! Yes, Advent is all about confessing ours sins, turning back to God, asking for forgiveness, and waiting, waiting, waiting on the arrival of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Advent is penitential.

It is winter’s Lent. And it is a season for us to live Isaiah’s confession: “O Lord, we are the clay and you the potter; we are all the work of your hands.” If Advent is going to be a season of good spiritual fruit, if we are to claim and name our sin, turn away from disobedience, and beg forgiveness from God, then we must bring fresh to our hearts and minds the wisdom of Isaiah’s confession: we are made from the stuff of the Earth, breathed into life by the divine breath, shaped, and given purpose by a God Who looks upon us as works of art, creations to be loved and saved and brought back to Him unblemished, whole. This is our short time before celebrating the coming of our salvation for us to prepare ourselves to be found lacking, needful, and humble before the Lord.

Starting here, we wait. Yes, we wait. And if we are to wait well, we wait on a blade’s edge—the thin slit between repairing and giving thanks, confessing and praising, wailing and rejoicing. There is a still, quiet eagerness, a sharp keenness to this season. It demands of us a stiff attention to who we are as fallen creatures and who we can be as children of God. It demands of us an exercise of patience and a hurrying to be done, the practice of serene persistence and a rushing to finish. Our violet season burdens us with a provocation to know ourselves completely, to know ourselves as we are, and to bring that knowledge to the Lord as a gift, an offering of sacrifice for his sacrifice for us.

We wait. And we watch b/c Jesus urges his disciples: “Be watchful! Be alert!” But this is not an order to sit quietly, looking to the East, waiting to be found. We are to be busy with seeking the Lord in prayer, in praise and thanksgiving, and in the good works of mercy and compassion for one another. Jesus is not ordering his disciples to complacency, to quietism. He is ordering them to alertness, to strict attention to the source and summit, the root and height of their mission as those sent to preach and teach the gospel. They are to be working slavishly for the good of their Master’s kingdom while he is gone, laboring furiously to produce a good harvest to celebrate his return. They watch b/c they know he will return, he will fulfill his promise to come back to them, bringing with him their reward for faithful service and strict attention.

And so we wait. But do we wait well? Waiting is how we give to one another some measure of control, some small piece of power over us in order to admit that we are twined inextricably with those who live beside us. I know men and women who strain their lives to the edge of sanity to avoid admitting to themselves or anyone else that they need others or are needed by others. Their false self-sufficiency poisons everything they do, everything they are, and they slowly disappear into the myth of individualism, shrink into ghosts who haunt the community with their hunger for attention but will not yield even the smallest moment of control, the meanest instance of isolation and pride. They cannot wait well on the Lord b/c they cannot live lives of confession, repentance, forgiveness, and praise.

To confess, to repent, to forgive, and to praise are all moments in the divine life that clearly speak the reality of our total dependence on God and express our willingness to work with His other children in the kingdom for His greater glory. Our Advent season is that time of the Church year when we are given the chance to pay strict attention to who we are as fallen creatures and who we can be as children of the Father. It is a time for us to wait well on the Lord—to give him control, to give him lordship of our lives, to rule and reign as Lover of our hearts, Master of our souls, and God of everything we have and everything we are.

This next week, walk with strict attention the line between reparation and thanksgiving, between confession and praise, between wailing and rejoicing. And wait watchful for the coming of the Lord. Let him find you in need of his salvation, ready to be forgiven in repentance, and impatient to offer him thanks.


  1. Great homily.

    It brings to mind some thoughts that have been with me off and on for the last week or so.

    I was listening to an interview with Fr. Fessio (a member of some new order called,I think, "Jesuits") and there was a phoned-in question from a listener. This listener explained that he thought he had a vocation, but was a bit overawed by the prospect of the requirement of celibacy for priests. He mentioned that he had been taking a Scripture class and the epistles of St. Paul were being examined.

    The Apostolic recommendation of celibacy from the earliest days of the Church made sense, he explained, because St. Paul expected the end of the world at any moment. Fr. Fessio immediately broke in with, "So do we! So do we!"

    Haven't we, after all, lost that sense of eschatological imminence that we should always carry with us? Not that we should be too overeager in our examination of fig trees. But how would we order our day if Christ had gone to the grocery store for some figgy pudding and was expected back at any moment? Sometimes, I can put myself in the appropriate frame of mind, a frame of mind that recalls the etymological connection between "Waiting" and "Watching." "Watching" actively; "watching OUT!"

    "Watch out! Be on guard!", I want to remind myself this Advent. Remember that God is there, right there, behind the paper-thin fabric of His Creation, about to burst through, though He speaks for the moment with a still, small voice. He is staying His hand, staying it, staying it, as the clock inches forward.

    Watch out! because He will be coming for us at any moment. Our bags should be packed and ready to go, our lamps should be lit to welcome Him in the Darkness.

    Watch out! because this time, it will be different. As Christina Rosetti said, "Heaven and Earth shall flee away when He comes to reign." This time it won't be the stillness of a Star that marks the Intrusion of the Creator into His World; this time He will come like lightning flashing from East to West, with the sound of a Trumpet, with a sound that will wake the Dead.

    Woe to me if I am Surprised.

  2. --The Apostolic recommendation of celibacy from the earliest days of the Church made
    sense, he explained, because St. Paul expected the end of the world at any moment. Fr.
    Fessio immediately broke in with, "So do we! So do we!"--

    I love this story b/c it really does point out the degree to which we have lost our sense
    of moving toward an end. We have already pretty much lost any sense we had of having
    come from a formative past and I'm not altogether sure we care much for our present. It
    seems sometimes that we would rather live in a virtual present where we control
    everything. Though technology is the most popular means of doing this, we do pretty well
    with ole fashioned psychological and intellectual tools as well, e.g., the fetus of the
    new and relativism.

  3. Well said! And I have to say you really hit the nail on the head (in my regard) with reference to the computer...I get so impatient with that thing!

    Of course, the worst part about THAT is that it usually locks up just when I have a busy customer on the line looking for the answer to a simple question which will allow them to move on with their lives....so waiting is a domino effect.

    Anyway, great, great homily and words I will need for today!

    God Bless!