Waiting is one of the main themes of Advent. It seems to me that Advent waiting is a different kind of waiting than we do when we are on hold for the cable company to fix a problem. Advent waiting cannot really anticipate the outcome because the outcome is unpredictable.
Waiting for God to act involves letting go of our expectations and living with ambiguity, with being open to the unexpected. I find that if I am too focused on what I want to happen, I can miss what God is doing.
I think Mary and Elizabeth were both surprised by their pregnancies and I wonder how John the Baptist reacted when he got arrested for his preaching. I don’t know what they were expecting, but I imagine that at some point each of the three said, “I did not see that coming.”
I learned a lot about my expectations when I lived in l’Arche. I don’t know that I could have articulated my expectations before I went, but once I got there, I saw them clearly—every time they were unmet. I had expected some kind of utopia and got the ordinariness of daily living with people who were as broken as I was. I did not see that coming.
But, while I was stomping my feet at the messiness of daily life, God acted by giving me little gifts every day—someone complimenting me on my baking or asking to go for a walk. One or two people sitting with me in chapel or Agnes asking me to pray the rosary with her. Anita teasing me about my red nail polish (a sure sign to her Mennonite sensibilities that I was headed down the wrong path) or Nicola inviting me to dinner.
Each act was a gift; each one an invitation to let go of my expectations and receive what God was offering.
I was reminded of this the other day, when a friend was telling me about her new boss who is surprisingly supportive of her work, unlike his predecessor. She cited a few specific things he had done, her voice was full of wonderment at her good fortune. Then we started talking about how our Advents were going and she said, “I am still waiting for God to act.” I don’t know exactly what her expectations are, but it seems to me that God is already acting. Like me in l’Arche, while she is looking to her left, God is acting on her right.
God acts continually, and I have learned that I need to let go of my expectations and be open to see, receive and celebrate the surprises God has in store for me.