I wonder how you view Advent? Lent is much better known and talked about, with the strong symbols of Ash Wednesday, the donkey, and Palms on Palm Sunday and the washing of feet on Maundy Thursday. But what about Advent? In the world’s terms, this season barely gets a passing glance on its way to Christmas. Advent is a bit of a season that has a ‘back to the future’ feel about it. As we look back to the time leading up to the incarnation so we look forward in anticipation of the God who will come again.
It is fair to say that the journey through the history of the Church to the present keeping of Advent has been varied and changeable. Seeming to have begun in Tours, France, in about 480 with the monks fasting three times a week from the 11th of November. It was Gregory the Great who reduced what had become a 6 Sunday Advent in Rome to four Sundays of Advent at the end of the 6th Century. It became a season in its own right with a strong emphasis on the Second Coming of Christ.
There are a number themes to Advent. A traditional Carmelite theme for the first Sunday of Advent is ‘Waiting’ (Isaiah 52:7-10).
I find waiting a bit tough, I feel I am hanging around for something else rather than seeing it as an activity in itself. We wait in lines: in order to purchase groceries; to be served at popular restaurants; to be attended to in a bank; at stop signs and traffic signals; at amusement parks; to see a play or film. We must also wait for flowers to grow and bloom; for babies to be born; for wounds to heal; for bread to rise and cheese to age; for children to mature; for friends to call; for love to deepen. Statisticians have estimated that in a lifetime of 70 years, the average person spends at least three years waiting!
A few years ago I decided to spiritually concentrate on the Advent theme of waiting. I placed myself in a world without God and waited. What would the world be like if Jesus had not been born? As the implications dawned, my appreciation of the triune God grew.
I linked this to my leadership skills and the times I have made quick decisions. I pondered on this Advent theme of ‘waiting’ and found it started to develop my craft and offering as a leader. The art of prayerful waiting not only gives a greater understanding of the decisions that may need to be made but a depth of knowledge about the long-term implications on the life of the church: waiting breeds prayerful, effective and appropriate decision making.
If this is true, why on earth do we feel quick decisions are needed? Could it be of strategic importance….? it shows strong leadership…..? perhaps the issue would get worse if a decision wasn’t made……? maybe people are demanding one…..? There could be many reasons why we could convince ourselves a quick decision is needed when actually the best course of action would be to……………WAIT.
On a long journey, every parent will have heard the cries of their children sitting in the backseat of the car shouting ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ What age do we get to when we can actually take value ‘in’ the journey and not just the destination? When we journey together, locked in a car, looking out the same windows, involved in the same conversation, thinking and chatting through our destination we bond, build camaraderie and develop: it is a time of learning, thinking and engaging. Taking time to prayerfully wait before making a decision breeds steadfast, relational and wise decision making. The insights and joys that come from an ‘intentional wait’ is as important as the destination. The leader can set the pace and the tone. They allow the space for people to bring their concerns, irritations, and disagreements to the surface. Of course, having a sense of urgency, resolve and motivation to ‘get on with it’ is really important (it is indeed one of the many characteristics of leadership). However, care is needed with people who have contributed much in the past and are needed for new endeavours to be successful. Strong leadership is not just about action but purposefully stepping back and waiting. To slow the pace and to allow the options to come to the fore, events to unfold, critical mindsets to mellow.
The season of Advent is 4 weeks long, there is an end in sight to the wait. Then ‘boom’ the incarnation comes and Emmanuel Our God is with us! Church leaders are in the business of strategically waiting with a purpose, then when the time is right, then act. Take time, gather opinion, research information, pray fervently and then see where God is leading, once a decision is made …………hold fast!
How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
who bring good tidings,
who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
“Your God reigns!”
Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices;
together they shout for joy.
When the Lord returns to Zion,
they will see it with their own eyes.
Isaiah 52 7f