Bishop Steve Breedlove has written an encouraging reflection on Advent, and why it is so important to learn the spiritual discipline of waiting.
Here are some excerpts:
The wisdom of the Church says that waiting-for-what-we-do-not-yet-have is good medicine for the soul. “Little Lent”, as Advent is often called, sets the foundation for another year of deepening faith and spiritual health. How? What can a wait-without-having do for our souls?
Advent teaches us to nurture our longing for Jesus. Reading and praying about his return is meant to heighten our desire for his return, our preparedness for his return, and our longing for his presence now. Advent can, and should, teach us to live happily without instant gratification of our desires. It can, and should, school us to live on less. (The ancient fathers did not set aside Advent in response to American style excesses, but in God’s providence, what they did offers us a great alternative!) Advent can, and should, call us to generosity – if we don’t spend as much on ourselves we can spend more on others, especially those who cannot repay us.
Advent teaches us solidarity with our Jewish history: it reminds us of our spiritual roots. Like all forms of Sabbath (“suffering lack” and “resting from labor”), Advent reminds us of our limitations and calls us to depend on God’s grace. Like Israelites freed from slavery to the cultural machine, Advent teaches us that we do not need the hype, the possessions, and the latest techno-gadgets to be fulfilled. Really. (I mean, really.)
Many lessons can be gleaned from Advent, but one more lesson is particularly on my heart. In intentional waiting, of living-with-lack (especially in the face of cultural excesses), Advent can take us deep into the issue of persevering through incompleteness, of enduring while we wait on God to show up in our lives. I find that a particularly valuable spiritual lesson.
Contrary to our cultural practices and expectations, living a Christian life is not instant anything. It is a battle with the world, the flesh and the devil. (In my case, the world and the devil have pretty easy jobs: the flesh harries me, oh, about 24/7.) Advent underscores and enables me to practice what I know – that I do long for Jesus, that I do wait for him, that I do desperately depend on him, that he has come, is coming, will come, and does come. In the waiting, in the incompleteness, in the struggle, God teaches me about the whole Christian life and cuts against the grain of my culture’s screams for easy answers. An easy answer for the deep transformation of the soul is not the true answer. And a life without longing, and waiting, and praying, and depending, and seeking, and hungering, and remembering, and reaching out, is not a Christian life.