by Henri Nouwen
Waiting is not a very popular attitude. Waiting is not something that people think about with great sympathy. In fact, most people consider waiting a waste of time. Perhaps this is because the culture in which we live is basically saying, “Get going! Do something! Show you are able to make a difference! Don’t just sit there and wait!” For many people, waiting is an awful desert between where they are and where they want to go. And people do not like such a place. They want to get out of it by doing something…
It impresses me, therefore, that all the figures who appear in the first pages of Luke’s Gospel are waiting. Elizabeth and Zechariah are waiting. Mary is waiting. Simeon and Anna, who were there at the temple when Jesus was brought in, are waiting. The whole opening of the good news is filled with waiting people. And right at the beginning all those people in some way or another hear the words, “Do not be afraid. I have something good to say to you.” These words set the tone and the context. Now Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary, Simeon and Anna are waiting for something new and good to happen to them…
Waiting, as we see it in the people on the first pages of the Gospel, is waiting with a sense of promise. “Zechariah,… your wife Elizabeth is to bear you a son.” “ Mary,… Listen! You are to conceive and bear a son” (Luke 1:13, 31). People who wait have received a promise that allows them to wait. They have received something that is at work in them, like a seed that has started to grow. This is very important. We can only really wait if what we are waiting for has already begun for us. So waiting is never a movement from nothing to something. It is always a movement from something to something more. Zechariah, Mary, and Elizabeth were living with a promise that nurtured them, that fed them, and that made them able to stay where they were…
Second, waiting is active. Most of us think of waiting as something very passive, a hopeless state determined by events totally out of our hands… But there is none of this passivity in scripture. Those who are waiting are waiting very actively. They know that what they are waiting for is growing from the ground on which they are standing… Active waiting means to be present fully to the moment, in the conviction that something is happening where you are and that you want to be present to it…
Waiting is essential to the spiritual life. But waiting as a disciple of Jesus is not an empty waiting. It is a waiting with a promise in our hearts that makes already present what we are waiting for. We wait during Advent for the birth of Jesus. We wait after Easter for the coming of the Spirit, and after the ascension of Jesus we wait for his coming again in glory. We are always waiting, but it is a waiting in the conviction that we have already seen God’s footsteps.
Waiting for God is an active, alert - yes, joyful - waiting. As we wait we remember him for whom we are waiting, and as we remember him we create a community ready to welcome him when he comes.
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