I’m not really good at waiting. Once I’ve decided I want to do something, I want to do it right away. I’ve always been this way. So here comes Advent with all its language about waiting, and I start to feel a little itchy. I understand, and can appreciate, the beauty in the expectancy and the here-but-not-yet-here-ness of it all. But I’m still feeling a little antsy. What the hell are we waiting for?
I have found myself asking this question a lot lately. What the hell are we waiting for? It rattled through my head as I watched video footage of water protectors at Standing Rock being attacked with water cannons, flash grenades, and pepper spray. Hundreds of people who have gathered peacefully to demand that the Dakota Access Pipeline not be allowed to run through sacred lands and to endanger the water supply, have routinely faced state sponsored brutality while the rest of the country goes about their daily lives. The reporting on Standing Rock is woefully inadequate, and if it were not for water protectors and alternative media posting videos and images on Facebook and Twitter we might never know the scope of violence that the water protectors have faced. And I think to myself; What the hell are we waiting for?
What more do we need to do or say for the demands at Standing Rock to be heard? How many more videos of violence against peaceful protectors do we need to see before we are compelled to act; to stand in solidarity with Native American voices, to demand that our political leaders and representatives stop the pipeline before it’s too late. What are we, the Church, waiting for? As followers of Christ are we not called to stand between victims of violence and those who intend them harm? Are we not called to demand the careful and sacred stewardship of Creation? How many scientific studies, case studies, and personal stories do we need to hear before we heed the warning about the immanent dangers of climate change? What the hell is going to become of the world while we as Christians are busy waiting?
This question pressed on me again as more news of the president-elect’s administration appointments became available. I have heard from news reporters, pundits, and Facebook friends “Let’s just give the President-Elect a chance”. Let’s wait and see. I’m sorry, but what the hell are we waiting to see? Are we waiting to see if Trump’s rhetoric about immigrants and Muslims will continue once he’s in office? Because the last week or so his transition team has been trying to justify the possibility of a Muslim registry in the United States. One of his surrogates even used Japanese internment camps as a precedent for such action! Try again. Are we waiting to see if the president-elect will begin to distance himself from alt-right extremism and neo-Nazis? Because yesterday a video of Richard Spencer, the president of the National Policy Institute, showed him speaking to a room full of men shouting “Hail Trump” while giving a Nazi salute. The response from Trump’s transition team stated that Trump “…has continued to denounce racism of any kind…” *. What is missing was the president-elect actually denouncing racism. And it’s not as if this is the first time Trump has failed to unequivocally denounce racism in his name. So again, what the hell are we waiting for?
My impatience rages as I look at the world I love and see it so broken. I don’t want to wait. I want salvation and judgment and peace and mercy and love, and I want them now. And every day that I fail to see these things, I just keep asking myself; What the hell are we waiting for? What the hell is God waiting for? Fix it already.
In an address to the German nation in 1942, Paul Tillich writes “…the Advent season surely announces the coming light and not the growing darkness, the coming salvation and not the coming destruction! What does such an announcement have to say to the German nation today? Can you feel today what you once felt in the weeks of Advent? Do you have anything to which you can look? People cannot live if they have nothing for which to hope” **. Hope. It seems like such a faraway concept in a world that is so very broken. But hope is built into the very foundation of the Christian faith. The yearning of the people for God’s salvation in the desert, Mary’s pondering and expectation, the moments before Lazarus emerges from the rock, and the empty tomb on Easter morning. Hope is simply the waters that Christians are called to swim in. Hope has always been a difficult concept for me to engage with. It is hard for us to see hope in the midst of violence and hatred. And yet, I have a post-it note on the wall in front of my desk that reads “Hope is anticipated joy” (Moltmann I believe). I look at those words each day and I try to remind myself that I am allowed hope. More than that, I deserve hope. I am expected to hope. It is my duty as a follower of Christ to be about the business of hope. As Christians, we preach resurrection; that death does not have the final word. We participate in the story of the people of Israel who cry out “…from where shall come my help? My help shall come from the Lord” ***. The Christian faith is always anticipating, always about the practice of hope. And it is a practice. Hope is not idleness. It is not comfortably waiting for some omniscience to distribute to us joy and peace and love. It is the active waiting of service and gratitude and joy. So perhaps I need to re-frame my original question. Maybe rather than ask “What the hell are we waiting for?” I need to ask “How the hell are we waiting?” When pressed, we can all articulate what it is we are waiting on. We know, for the most part, what we want the world to look like. But we often need help understanding how it is we go about hoping such a world into existence.
This means that while we hope in Advent for the coming of Christ, we must also be about the hope that Christ is already present. This means that we need to see the here-but-not-yet-here Christ in the gathering of water protectors to defend sacred lands and in their demand for the protection of holy Creation. We need to see the hope of the present Christ in the congregations and church bodies across the nation who are denouncing hatred, becoming sanctuary spaces, and standing with and for those whose lives are threatened. We need to see the present Christ in intimate and vulnerable relationships of friends and family. We need to see the present Christ in those spiritual practices that replenish us and ground us. This seeing does not mean that we take some position of naïve optimism, or rest on the often-dangerous claim that “God is in control” and leave it at that. It simply means that we must have the presence of mind to reject the dominion of despair and see with eyes trained to perceive the experience of hope around us.
I believe that this is the work of spiritual community. Hope is not a solitary act. It cannot be if it is ever to be truly realized. This is a practice that we must engage together. The liturgy of the Advent season will call us into an engaged and focused expectancy. We will say together “Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come”. For some of us fasting is an important practice during Advent. Refraining from certain foods or activities as a sign of repentance and purification, preparing ourselves for the coming world of hope and its salvation. We will gather with our spiritual communities, families, and congregations to pray for wisdom, guidance, and the strength to be hope in the world as followers of Christ. These practices engage the spirit and strengthen us to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly. They refuel us to do the work of hope in service of the other, solidarity with the poor and the oppressed, and acts of mercy. They empower us, so that when we are asked “What the hell are you waiting for?” we can respond with “Let us show you”. Thanks be to God.
**Tillich, Paul, Ronald H. Stone, and Matthew Lon. Weaver. Against the Third Reich: Paul Tillich’s Wartime Addresses to Nazi Germany. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1998.