By Brynna Jones
Part 2: Anticipation — or Waiting for
“It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”
Is it? Is it really?
Last winter, I spent a lot of time waiting for my anxiety-induced illness and fatigue to pass so that I could do my work; work that mostly consisted of finishing my last research project and writing my doctoral dissertation. This year, after (finally!) completing my graduate degree in February, it has been more about waiting on the future: applying for jobs and then waiting to hear back, waiting in the midst of weighing decisions, and now I am waiting for my new job to begin. I look back at the last few years and, listing my accomplishments, feel that I have very little to show for the time. One paper, a couple of dissertation chapters, a few job applications. And now, with my degree completed, I’ve taken a year off. I have written some chapters of a couple of novels, several songs. Have I wasted my time? Some days I think so. But Advent answers, “No.”
In October, I accepted a postdoctoral research position at the National Institute of Standards and Technologies (NIST) in Maryland. Since then, I have had some idea of what is at the end of the waiting. I can finally make plans, have some reasonable expectations, begin to prepare. Now I’m not just waiting, I’m waiting for something. This is the other half of Advent.
I’m anticipating that in a few months, I’ll be building super-resolution microscopes in a slightly warmer place. I’m glad to be close to my sister, to work with my brother-in-law, and to have the excuse of being close to spend time with my almost-4-year-old nephew. At the same time, leaving here, leaving my home, leaves me sad. Especially leaving you, my church family. You have fed me with food and prayers and words of encouragement, and I feel that I have grown strong with such nourishment. I hope with this strength to find a church and to build a home in this new place.
We all know what’s coming at Christmas: family, presents, an early morning and a late night. Someone will have a meltdown, something will get broken. Stories and laughter, new traditions and old ones, music and disappointment and joy and complaint all mixed in a Gloria-in-excelsis-Deo mess. The dusk of Christmas Day can feel like the end.
But the really glorious thing is that it is just beginning.
That is one of my very favorite things about the church calendar: Christmas is a season and not a day. Not only does it make “The Twelve Days of Christmas” more comprehensible and give us more days to sing carols, but it gives us the gift of time. Time to realize that this celebration is for the starter’s gun firing and not the crossing of the finish line.
The story of Christ, of the new covenant, begins here in the winter dark. Our lengthening December nights are the dark of Mary’s womb. The hope of the world remade, of the new heavens and the new earth, begins here also. The Christmas feast is an echo of the marriage feast at the end of time and the beginning of everything else, and so in a way, the darkness of our nights is also the dark before creation, the dark before the light was made to be.
Advent, this time of waiting, is no longer Ordinary Time. We may look back and say, “What on earth were we doing?” We were waiting. We were doing something that, however empty and useless it may seem to us, has value to God. I don’t quite know why. I could come up with lots of reasons: Waiting can lead to creativity, it gives us discipline, it makes us appreciate things when we have them. All these things are true. But that seems a little like saying that a painting has value because of the signature in the corner. That is a part of it, absolutely, but the mystery that waits here in the dark holds much greater power than sits in these reasons.
All waiting someday, eventually, ends.
‘For, though we cannot say why, we know that something
Will happen: What we cannot say,
Except that it will not be a reporter’s item
Of unusual human interest;
That always means something unpleasant. But one day or
The next we shall hear the Good News.’
-Shepherds, For the Time Being, W. H. Auden