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Advent: Waiting in the pandemic


I have always loved the season of Advent. From a young age, I remember the anticipatory waiting. The rhythm and flow of the weeks. The lighting of the Advent wreath during worship. The seasonal music and ways the choir seemed to sing with their whole being. The humor that was brought to the Christmas story when kids would dawn costumes to bring to life this ancient story. The energy that this waiting creates feeds me.

I’m not sure if it’s because the season reunites friends and family as we approach Christmas, or that making it through another semester of the school year leads to a break, or that my birthday is right before the birth of Christ, but there is always something inside me that seems to change.

Perhaps it is the fact that I am not a very patient person. I never have been great at practicing that spiritual gift. I do not like waiting. I do not like the uncertainty. I want something done then and done quickly so we can move on to the next phase, the next event, the next day. But then comes along Advent, and I once again find myself in a time of expectant waiting. And instead of the anxiety that I normally produce in times of waiting, I find myself full of energy and joy. I find myself drawn into this waiting, into this great promise of hope and love.

As I begin to look toward Advent this year, I wonder what it will look like. There will not be the great hymn singing and caroling. There will not be packed pews as people join in lighting the Advent wreath. There will not be children’s plays with babies playing everything from Mary to the sheep at the stable. And while we will not have the traditional times of celebration and waiting, the rhythms and patterns, rituals and practices of this season, we will still find ourselves in a time of Advent, of expectant waiting.

And this year, perhaps more than other years, I need this expectant waiting. I need this time to slow down, to be in a time of waiting, to look forward to the hope-filled promise that Advent brings. This past year has tested us as a people, a country, and individually. We have learned more about ourselves, our jobs, our tasks, our hobbies and our skills as we have been in a different form of waiting. As we live in a time of pandemic this year, I find myself exhausted in the waiting. I am tired. I am somehow overworked with little to show for that work. I am spinning my wheels and getting nowhere fast. And if I am honest, I am over it all. I am over this type of anxious waiting.

And while I am over that type of waiting, I am eager to enter Advent and this expectant waiting. In part, because I know that this time is one of hope, one of finding light in the darkness, one of finding love in despair. Because unlike this pandemic-waiting mode, with all its anxiety and exhaustion, the waiting of Advent brings us a message of hope and life. It shares the story of old, the one that is ingrained into us from a young age, that Christ is coming to us — to break down systems that oppress, to tear down the walls that divide, to turn the world upside down.

So this season, I will prepare. I will set up my home Advent wreath, put up the décor and dust off the old hymnal. I will gather with my church family via Zoom and join our hearts in worship, in waiting, in wonder.

In this moment, in this season, I still find joy and life in waiting. It is different for sure, but what hasn’t been different for this year? The fact is that in this season, in our virtual gatherings, in the lighting of the wreaths at our respective homes, in the sharing of this familiar story, we know that Christ will come once again to us. And as always, we will be waiting and watching for this light to enter our world.

MAGGIE ALSUP lives on iced coffee, believes that Disney movies are for all ages, is obsessed with hippos and loves living in the foothills of the Ozarks. She currently serves as the chaplain at Lyon College, in Batesville, Arkansas, where she helps empower and equip students for the life and ministry of the church universal.