Waiting is a fact of life. We wait in lines. We wait at stop lights. We wait for babies to be born. We wait, and wait, and wait. Our response is often one of wanting to “get it over with.” From a child’s annoying “Are we there yet?” to impatient drivers cutting off other drivers to get someplace quicker, we seem to have an aversion to waiting.
The flip side to waiting, however, is expectation, anticipation and hope. This is beautifully captured in the Spanish language. The verb esperar means “wait, expect and hope.” One of the themes of Advent is waiting. It is usually cast in terms of our expectation for a Savior — the pre-Christian expectation of the Jewish people for a Messiah, and the Christian hope or expectation for Jesus to come again in glory. The relationship between these three realities is not coincidental. Waiting devoid of anticipating something is a drudgery. Anticipation without the hope that something can become a reality is meaningless.
If we take a look at the whole of Salvation History, beginning with Creation, continuing with the formation of the people of Israel, etc., we find a God who gradually enters into relationship with us and reveals himself to us. And then, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman” (Galatians 4:4). St. Paul uses the term “in the fullness of time.” This expression implies that God was waiting for a specific time for Jesus, the Son of God, to come to earth.
Another Gospel passage that comes to my mind is the parable of the Prodigal Son. Jesus portrays the father as waiting for the return of his son. “While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20 — italics added). While his son was away, this father had been waiting for him. The father looks for his son, anticipating his return. And when he finally sees the beloved son whom he has been expecting, the father can’t wait any longer. He doesn’t wait for his son to come to him, he runs to his son.
These two passages beautifully describe how God, in a sense, waits. God expected and prepared for the coming of Jesus to earth. Only when the time was right, and not a moment too soon, did Jesus appear. In the same way, God waits for the fullness of time in which God can run toward us and wrap us in the embrace that he has been eagerly anticipating to shower over us. Waiting can therefore become a powerful experience in which to encounter God. The process of waiting can be understood as the point of connection for entering into a profound relationship with God. I think the key is keeping in mind what we are waiting for, rather than becoming impatient because of the time spent waiting. So often we fill up that precious “waiting” time by “doing other things.” The Father figure in the parable kept looking for his son. The son was the object of his waiting. Therefore, he never tired of waiting because he wasn’t waiting — he was expecting his son.
A few years ago, I stopped doing things when I was waiting. You might want to try the same thing. For example, the next time you are waiting in a doctor’s office, instead of fidgeting, gaming or flipping through magazines, how about consciously becoming aware of waiting. What are you feeling as you sit in that office? What is it that drives you to fidget, game or flip through magazines? The “fullness of time” for you is when you hear your name called. How did you feel when your wait was over?
Take another example: waiting to meet up with a friend, for a birthday, Christmas or an important event. What is the difference between the two types of waiting — waiting for an appointment and waiting for something to happen in life?
All of our moments of waiting can prepare us for what we are ultimately waiting for — the complete revelation of God in Jesus Christ in our lives today. It is there that our waiting can be said to “meet” God’s waiting. If that ultimate “wait” becomes a conscious one in my life, then I can apply what I have learned about how I wait for other things to this ultimate expectation. When I meet God where he waits for me — in creation, in Sacred Scripture, in the Sacraments, in other people — I can experience the fullness of time with God who runs to meet me with more joy than when I hear my name called in a doctor’s office or when an anticipated event arrives. In this way our anticipation, our expectation, our waiting, is satisfying and becomes a welcome, sought-after experience.