I was born and bred to loathe waiting. My father, with his background in the FBI and law enforcement, is an efficient and effective man – and always on time. All the time. On Sundays in my house as a child, Dad would preside in the foyer of our house, raise his arm, and jingle the car keys loudly. We all knew what the signal meant: In four minutes, he would go and sit in the car. One more minute would elapse. And then he would pull out of the driveway – with or without us. And we all knew to avoid the “without us” option at all costs.
In middle school, my gym teacher at Centerville Middle School was Mr. Dipple, who was the stereotypical throwback gym class teacher. He wore short shorts, all year round; sported a burly, thick mustache; and smelled like leather and machismo. His policy was that any poor offender not seated by the time the bell rang learned greater punctuality by spending class running laps around the gym while shouldering two sandbags.
So I was ready for high-speed internet access, multitasking technological devices and the pace of a major city center before I entered the ninth grade.
All of us must wait, of course. And many of us hate it. We wait for trains or a job or a big break to come; we wait for the weather or the scenery or a spouse to change. What’s maddening to people like me is that this is just what the sage wisdom of the Christian church rubs my nose in during Advent. Advent forces me to wait for a whole month to celebrate Jesus’ birth; it urges me to sit still and wait ever longer for vision of a healed, renewed creation in Christ to burst into the world’s unsuspecting present. And so the lectionary starts into Advent with this cry from Isaiah, old but ever urgent: “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!” (Isa. 64.1).
Edward Hicks knew a little about waiting for a long-promised, tantalizingly beautiful, never-quite-arriving future. Hicks was a 19th-century Quaker, an American folk painter, and a fellow Philadelphian. In 1820, he painted his now-famous Peacable Kingdom, picturing in oil on canvas the stunning visions of Isaiah 2 and 11. Leopards lie next to sheep and lions next to oxen, with a little child among them. In the background of the painting, Quakers are engaged in fruitful dialogue with Native Americans. Hicks lived through several decades of violence and injustice in the New World, and along the way painted The Peacable Kingdom sixty more times. But in his later years, he started painting the predators in the scene as more ferocious, with fangs bared and claws out. Hicks kept waiting for the peaceable kingdom to come, but he knew in the meantime that he endured in a fangs-bared, claws-out kind of world.
Last year, on Cyber Monday Eve (or, as Christians call it, the first Sunday of Advent), Jeff Bezos, chief executive officer of Amazon, set the Internet, Facebook and Twitter-verses aflame with a surprise announcement. On “60 Minutes,” he declared that, within the next few years, Amazon would be developing a new service called Prime Air, in which consumers who bought products from Amazon would no longer need to endure the two to ten business days for FedEX or UPS to deliver their purchases. Instead, buyers would be able to receive their stuff in minutes, thanks to personalized delivery drones Amazon nicknamed “octocopters.”
I found delicious irony in this: On the day in which Amazon tantalized me with a promised future free of waiting and full of consumer drone strikes to deliver my shaving razors, gadgetry or sneakers at a moments’ notice, the worldwide Christian community entered into a season of focused anticipation, holy waiting.
I need this season. I need Holy Scripture and the worship of the church to stubbornly remind me that it’s still a fangs-bared, claws-out world out there. And that I need to learn to wait – to take up the discipline of holy not-doing so that I can learn to long patiently for God’s promised future in Christ.
O, that you would tear open the heavens and come down!
Photo Credit: graymalkn