A true story: a pastor once called over to a parishioner's house to set up an appointment. The phone rang and a small and polite voice eventually answered. Recognizing the voice as the woman's daughter, the pastor identified himself and asked to speak with her mother. He could hear the little girl's steps as she padded off, and then after a minute or two as she returned to the phone.
"My mother is busy right now. She'll be here in a little while."
Trying to be understanding, the pastor suggested, "Oh, that's all right. I can call her back a little bit later."
"No," came the reply to the little girl. "You can wait."
The pastor, a bit surprised, replied, "How do you know I can wait?"
The girl's response was clear, "You are a pastor. You can wait."
The thing is, the girl was exactly right. A good pastor understands that the work of the Spirit happens in its own time. It is an unseen, yet profoundly real process that takes place in each of us, as we allow it the space. It cannot be forced. It cannot be rushed. A good pastor can wait; it is one of the primary things she does.
But this understanding is not just limited to pastors. It is deeply embedded in the rhythms of our historic faith. It is written in your own soul. Advent is a container for this deep knowing that comes only as we live with the haunting of what we do not yet understand, what we do not yet know how to do, but cannot let go of - the holy gap between what is and what could be, the pregnancy that leads to new birth.
We all know the feeling, don't we? An idea, a hunger, a question lingers. At first we see it only in our periphery. Gradually it comes more into focus. We examine it, question it, explore it, give it voice. We are present to letting it ripen, clarify, and even change us.
After the active mind has done all it can, we come to an active pause, this pregnant waiting of Advent, where the deep currents of the soul, the deep mind can work. It may look like nothing is happening, but everything is happening. The pause is essential to the discovery, to the deeply creative spirit working within us. The result, the gift of the pause is insight - that "aha" that comes when a new way of working through a vexing problem becomes apparent.
The stories of Advent find us smack dab in the midst of the kinds of complex crises that require a new way of seeing. Prepare the way... A little child will lead them... a messiah from a backwater of a town... the dawn from on high will break upon us. Advent is that gracious space that we who seek and wonder and question need: From where will our salvation come?
What is being birthed in you? What new questions? What deep hungers need the space of your stillness? Carry them with you to church and let them be there, gathered around our big stories. See what God might unwrap within you this Christmas. You can wait.
Chuck Sigars is currently an elder at St. Andrew and a newspaper columnist and author.