Monday, November 30, 2009

Wait List-It's Advent

So, it's Advent.

It's waiting time.

I've been re-reading some wonderful writings on the spiritual value of waiting, for example, see A Spirituality of Waiting by Henri Nouwen, also found as "Waiting for God" in Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas.

I often describe myself as a patient person, but Nouwen really has me pegged this year—I'm tired of waiting: I want to be doing something. In particular, I want to be doing that which I spent the last five years in seminary preparing to do: I want to be a pastor. I want a church to call me to their pulpit.

Now, I'm not unemployed, for which I give thanks, and the work I do is important to the stability of the agency where I work, and we do good work on the behalf of elders in the community. But I don't know whether I am so unlike Zechariah and Elizabeth in some ways (Luke chapter 1): I've been doing good, but this isn't all that I want to be doing.

Perhaps you too are also waiting for something: for a job, for the economy to improve, for peace in the world, for love, for a child, for some project to come to fruition, for health care reform, for a cure, or even for Christmas.

As I often do I looked to music and the poets whose lyrics are set to music to hear what they have to say and I assembled this song list—a wait list. (Most of these are available on iTunes: see this iMix, except as noted.) The music led me on…

Wait list: It's Advent



When One Door Closes

Carrie Newcomer

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Sufjan Stevens (worth getting the physical box set for the graphics)

Holy Spirit Come To Us


Come On Come On

Mary Chapin Carpenter

Sitting, Waiting, Wishing

Jack Johnson

Waitin' For A Superman

Iron & Wine

Waitin' On A Sunny Day

Bruce Springsteen

I'm Waiting for Jesus

Thomas A. Dorsey

Wait for the Light to Shine

Nashville Gospel Singers

Wait for the Lord


God of Still Waiting

Composer: Alfred Fedak, Text: Carl Daw (I have a personal recording and couldn't find a public one available, but this is a lovely piece of music)

For God, My Soul Waits in Silence

Marty Haugen

Love Is Waiting

Brooke Fraser

Wait and See

Brandon Heath

If Not Now

Carrie Newcomer On new CD forthcoming, but demo available now

O Come, O Come Emmanuel


I noticed that several of those songs were inspired by Psalm texts, so, in hopes of a word from God, I looked to one of the grumbling Psalms.

Psalm 27

Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!

If my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up.

Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.

Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries, for false witnesses have risen against me, and they are breathing out violence.

That's right! Let's just call God to account!

Oh, but what's this in the next verse?

I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!

Wait for the Lord… Isn't that what I'm having trouble doing??

Okay, maybe the prophets can help us have a little foresight about this time of waiting. Isaiah is very popular during Advent, after all. And prophets often get right in God's face about the issues that are on their minds.

Isaiah 40.26-31

Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these? God who brings out the host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because God is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing.

Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God”? Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.

God does not faint or grow weary; God's understanding is unsearchable. The Lord gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

Well, that's something at least: "those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength," but how does that happen? I'm glad that God is not weary, but I am.

My favorite passage in Romans chapter 5 then came to mind, as I memorized it in the King James version:

… we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope makes not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.

Okay, but enough of the tribulation, patience, and experience, already. I need a little more help to get to hope. I pushed a little further ahead in Romans to chapter 8.

For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

I don't have so much patience anymore, and I don't even know what or how to ask at this point. But the next verse covers that.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs and groans too deep for words.

Okay, I don't know about you, but I can do sighs and groans. Perhaps gasps and shrieks as well—don't you think that's what happened when the angel approached Zechariah, or Mary?

In "Waiting for God," Nouwen writes,

Waiting, then, is not passive. It involves nurturing the moment, as a mother nurtures the child that is growing in her. Zechariah, Elizabeth and Mary were very present to the moment. That is why they could hear the angel. They were alert, attentive to the voice that spoke to them and said, "Don't be afraid. Something is happening to you. Pay attention."

But there is more. Waiting is open-ended. Open-ended waiting is hard for us because we tend to wait for something very concrete, for something that we wish to have. Much of our waiting is filled with wishes: "I wish that I would have a job. I wish that the weather would be better. I wish that the pain would go." …

But Zechariah, Elizabeth, and Mary were not filled with wishes. They were filled with hope. Hope is something very different. Hope is trusting that something will be fulfilled, fulfilled according to the promises and not just according to our wishes. Therefore, hope is always open-ended.

I have found it very important in my own life to let go of my wishes and start hoping. It was only when I was willing to go of wishes that something really new, something beyond my own expectations could happen to me.

Is it that I have been wishing and not waiting? Yet I didn't include "When you wish upon a star" on my wait list of songs—insightful of me, don't you think?

Once again, I am reminded to turn it over to God, that I have been called by God, that hope is the journey I am on.

And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to God's purpose. (Romans 8: 27-28)

May all of us be able to wait with this hope in this season.

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