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2020 Makes for a Very Hard Wait

December 18, 2020


I think it’s very, very, very hard to wait
Especially when you’re waiting
For something very nice
I think it’s very, very, very hard, to wait. —Fred Rogers

As a child, my elder son was a big fan of Fred Rogers—he still is, even in adulthood, in fact—and Mr. Rogers’ waiting song was one we would often sing together when the subject of anticipation came up. It’s hard to wait for the things we know will bring us delight.

Here in these last days of Advent, the little ones are opening new windows in their Advent calendars, and marking how few days are left before Christmas. Even as adults are trying to get everything done and feel like they are running out of time, a week feels interminable to the children. Anticipation is growing, and with it a sense of impatience.

It’s always the way. Whether we’re looking forward to a family reunion, or a wedding, or a vacation, the waiting is hard. How often do the promises of the Lord feel delayed, or the blessings too long in coming?

We are impatient, particularly in 2020, when so many of my friends have said, outright, “I cannot wait for this year to end!” But the Lord is not impatient. And that’s a very good thing, even if it sometimes seems confusing to us.

We read Scripture and see that while Christ Jesus says we will not know the day or the hour of his return, St. Paul continually anticipates the parousia and lives each day in expectation of it. But we look back over 2,000 years, and this particularly trying one and wonder, “Izzat so?” And we even begin to doubt. Or, conversely, we find ourselves saying “Come, Lord Jesus” and meaning it as we have never meant it before.

At Mass in Advent the celebrant prays in our name, “We await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ,” but are we really? Are we awaiting that blessed hope and that coming, or are we thinking, “If it didn’t happen this year, with the pandemic, the deaths, the lockdowns, it’s never going to happen. It’s just a metaphor for our own death.”

Unlike Paul, Peter looks for the coming of Christ with eyes trained toward eternity. He echoes a line from Psalm 90—“To your eyes a thousand years / are like yesterday, come and gone / no more than a watch in the night”—to remind us that God is outside of time, as we understand it, and that what seems to be “delay” to us, in the limited, conceited view of generations, is to God a mere blink.

While we “await” Christ’s return, we should consider that the thing—the one very great thing—that we never have to wait for is the mercy of God, which is ever there, constantly offered to us, at the moment we seek it.

It is this great, ever-present mercy, says Peter, that explains the “delay.” The God who took the trouble to become incarnate, dwell among us in shared humanity, suffer and die to ransom us, wants to give us every chance to turn to him; he keeps a reprieve at the ready, for all of us. “He is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish” (2 Pet. 3:9).

Sometimes I consider the mess of me, how cantankerous and cranky and cynical I can be—what a trial I am to live with—and I marvel that my family still wants to be around me. And then I consider the Incarnation (because I keep nativity sets up around my house all year long) and I think, “Can you believe it? He still wants to be with us. He wants to live with us, through eternity.”

What sort of God is this?

“Forever,” says the love-smitten bridegroom. “This is forever.” And he actually does want that, and so—ever-faithful—he waits. We get no “Dear John” or “Dear Jane” letters from this divine spouse.

But sometimes, particularly in the late days of Advent—the last days of a year that has felt extremely difficult for most of us—we can’t help but say, “Thank you for wanting to be with us, all the time,” and then following it up with, “How much more are you going to make us wait—are you almost here?”

When that mood strikes us, perhaps that is a good time to whisper up a prayer for mercy, for us and for the whole world.

Lord, you are a continual mystery of love and constancy, even when things seem impossible and altogether too much. You coax us over to you with the sweetest proposal, “Abide in me, and I in you” (John 15:4). Love words that flare across the darkness, and bring us near. Come, Lord Jesus, that we may abide, and once more know your merciful embrace. Amen.