Living in the city, I often see people waiting for buses as I’m driving to work or church or the store. Nowadays, most of their heads are bent over cell phone screens, while fingers scroll through social media feeds or tap out status updates. Some are on calls; others nod to music thrumming through their ear buds.
But once in a while, I’ll catch sight of someone who isn’t staring at a digital device or swaying to a beat from cyberspace.
The person is simply looking, and waiting.
Even if the individual’s expression is utterly bored, I still find a vulnerability in his or her gaze. Eyes search for the bus to appear, glancing sometimes at fellow commuters. Many seem tired, with a long day of work still ahead; maybe the night was spent nursing a sick child, or laboring at a second job, or tossing fitfully as anxieties chased away both sleep and the dreams of the heart.
Social science researchers actually devote quite a bit of time and effort to examining how people wait, and what enables them to wait well. Of course, you don’t need an academic to tell you that (as one study concluded) waiting “gives rise to the emotions of anger and uncertainty” as well as “irritation, annoyance, boredom and stress.” We hate to wait.
Perhaps that’s because waiting makes us feel vulnerable, dependent and out of control. To wait is to submit to a limitation, a need, an “other” who may or may not come through for us. The bus may be late, or it may not arrive at all. What will we do then, and who will help us?
Some of us get around those questions by not asking them at all. We don’t want to be disappointed, so we don’t bother waiting, especially on the Lord. We experience a lack or a loss that should rightly drive us to our knees in prayer, but such supplication could well require us to listen patiently — in silence, no less — for God’s direction. Rather than humble ourselves, we devise our own solutions. In the end, we’re right back at our own bus stops, and no further along the journey to true peace.
Advent, our season of waiting, is a lesson in vulnerability, taught by the God who took the form of an infant. Countless eyes strained through the centuries for a glimpse of the child; out of all humanity, relatively few saw Christ during his earthly ministry, and those blinded by pride and self-righteousness could not, for all their beholding, perceive him.
Yet we who live on this side of Pentecost have a new vision, one that enables us to lower our heads in humility and dependence, that we might lift our eyes in expectation of a Savior who comes at every moment — gently, but with great power; ready to meet us as and where we are, and to transport us to new life with him.
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