When I think of Advent, the word “waiting” comes to mind. As we light the first two purple candles this past Sunday and this coming Sunday, we anticipate Christ’s return to his people in a time of preparation and hope. The readings of the church these past few weeks seem foreboding, speaking of the last days. Whether you consider Christ’s second coming or your own last days, we can think of our lives as a kind of holding pattern; a time of preparation and waiting.
If you asked people on a city street about waiting, you may get responses involving that line at Starbucks that made someone five minutes late to work. Or that package that was wanted delivered by Friday didn’t come until Saturday, or the troublesome gas station lines the day before Thanksgiving. Few people would say that waiting is a positive thing. I don’t think that I am alone in saying that waiting can be a good thing; especially on our path to holiness. I think my companion fan of the virtues, Jane Austen, would agree.
The more I read Austen, the more relish the sublime tension that she builds simply by spotlighting a character who is waiting for her life to begin. A complicated social labyrinth ruled the era in which Austen wrote, making it exhaustive for most women sans fortune and position to promote their own dreams. Practically powerless and always subject to someone else’s authority, women’s lives were comprised almost completely of waiting. It is in the waiting that most Austen fans find the richest work of her pen. For Austen, the waiting shares the main character’s spotlight, as the vehicle to drive the reader toward complicated human presuppositions and seemingly hopeless outcomes, only to arrive at bliss. Remarkably, the by-product of this “supporting actress” is the stuff that makes the heroine so memorable, and what we can learn about ourselves this Advent.
Waiting Begets Perspective
Austen’s love stories involve heroines who never think to stop dreaming of their beloved even when they are told there is no chance at a happy ending. It isn’t their circumstances or emotions that drive them, it’s the love that cannot be taken from their hearts, something incorruptible. And while they wait and hope, they serve their family in honor and continue to mold themselves into the best possible person they can be. Last Sunday’s gospel in Luke (chapter 21) warns us not to become drowsy or caught up in the world’s anxieties. We need to keep an eternal perspective. If we base our lives on accomplishing just the next small temporary thing, we will constantly feel unsatisfied and ineffective. In order to persevere,we must set our sights on something meaningful and affecting; something beyond ourselves. As we light the first Sunday’s candle in preparation for Our Lord, let’s examine the scope of the things that take up most of our time each day and make sure we aren’t getting weary or too busy to care about the big picture.
Waiting Is Hope, Gathering Strength
“All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one: you need not covet it), is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone!” (Persuasion)
When we wait, we hope. If we didn’t have hope, we would not wait, as we have witnessed in those who tragically end their own lives. It is Hope that begets joy. Joy is represented by the pink candle we light the third Sunday of Advent on our wreaths. Isaiah tells us that when we wait upon the Lord and things that are eternal, our strength will be renewed. When we light our pink candle this Advent, let us spend a few minutes telling the Lord how good He is and how we will wait upon Him with a joy that lends hope to those we encounter each day. Before we know it, we will be well on our journey and our hope will strengthen others as well.
Isaiah 40:30-33 Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they 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.
“Run mad as often as you choose, but do not faint!” –Love And Friendship, Jane Austen
Waiting Begets Wisdom and Understanding
“Hindsight is 20/20”. Our life journey is our education for God’s Kingdom. When we take time to look back on our lives and see all that God had brought us through, we can recount the goodness of the Lord to grow in trust of His future plans for us. The “O Antiphons” which the church recants during the last 7 days of Advent, call on the Lord based on Messianic descriptions from the bible, and have done so since the eighth century. The reason 16 centuries of singing the names of the Lord? To remember His goodness, and then to call to Him “Come!” Once we remember His good deeds and His love for His people, we can no longer have fear but confidence in His great mercy, and look up to Him with a response to the love from which we were created.
The greatest irony of Austen’s waiting characters is that through the fruits of their oppressive circumstances, they quickly developed the honor and virtue to understand that true freedom of spirit can come disguised in the most unsuspecting ways. Although “happy marriages” were the endings for her characters, the real victory was the peace that they had acquired through the waiting which nurtured them into truly strong and virtuous characters. Let this Advent yield the same fruit in our spiritual lives that Jane’s leading ladies came to in the end of their journeys; an eye on eternity, strengthening hope, wisdom, and true freedom of spirit. Lord Jesus, Come!
more reading: “25 great waiting quotes”