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  • Writer's pictureFr. Scott Haynes

Watching and Waiting

Fr. Scott A. Haynes

Waiting is not a popular past time in our culture today. We have our photos developed instantly, take our clothes to the same-day dry cleaners, and buy food at a drive-thru. When we wait for hours on end in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles, or when we are on hold with customer service for an hour of more, do we lose our cool?

Parents teach their children to wait patiently. They say things like,

No, not now, you can have that when you're older. Wait until your birthday. Wait a bit, and just be patient.

Parents teach children more about patience by the way they themselves act. Does your blood boil when you are stuck in traffic? Do you tailgate the person driving too slowly in front of you? Do you complain and snap at people when you don’t get your way? Kids notice everything. They are sponges. The old adage, "practice what you preach," reminds us to first practice patience if we are trying to teach patience.

In the Gospels, Jesus talks about waiting. He tells a parable about a man who goes on a journey. He does not tell his servants where he is going or when he will come home again. He leaves his servants in charge of his home and property and gives them work to do while he is away. He then leaves and his last word to his servants as he closes the front door is to be diligent and ready for his return, whenever that might be.

This is not unlike parents who leave their teenage children at home to look after the house, giving them instructions on what to do and telling them what they expected their children to do while they are away. When the parents have departed, the teens feel a wonderful feeling of freedom. They think the whole house is theirs. They can eat what they want, drink what they want, leave their clothes lying all over the place, and they can stay up as late as they wish like and sleep in till lunchtime.

However, if the parents are away for a long time and the un-watered plants are drooping and wilted, all the food has been cleaned out of the kitchen, the dishes fill the sink to overflowing, and the closet is empty, while the hamper is full, the time has come to make a decision. Live in squalor and accept the consequences of your actions upon the parents' return.

Conversely if the teens take seriously the instructions that were given, then they will do their best to carry them out. After all, the parents could come home at any time. It would be too late to get into a flurry - making beds, washing dishes, sweeping floors and washing laundry - when the car pulls into the driveway. It would even be worse if the parents arrived in the middle of the night and were surpised to walk in on a house in disarray.

Jesus’ parable tells us to watch and be ready, while at the same time reminding us that we have responsibilities to which we must attend while He is away. We are living in the time between Jesus’ first and second comings. Our Lord has told us to watch and wait and to do the work of building His Kingdom. As we do unto others as He did unto us; feeding the hungry; welcoming the stranger; caring for widows and orphans; visiting those in prison; and making disciples of all nations, we are working and waiting for Christ’s return.

There are two kinds of waiting - passive waiting and active waiting. By way of example, consider you are at the railway station. People are waiting for the arrival of a train. You notice that in one corner of the waiting room there is a man who has dozed off. He is waiting for the train but while he is waiting, he is bored and so has decided to catch up on a little sleep. He thinks that there will still be plenty of time before the train arrives, and so for now he is sleeping. He is passively waiting.

Also waiting for the train is a little boy. He is excited about the arrival of the train and then riding on it. He can’t sit still and constantly goes to the station door and looks up and down the tracks, he chatters to the other people waiting about the arrival of the train, he even asks the sleepy man if he is getting on the train too. The little boy’s waiting is full expectation, excitement, waiting on tiptoe. He is anticipating that the train will arrive at any moment. He is actively waiting.

We can choose to wait passively. Like sitting in a waiting room at the doctor’s, flicking through magazines, day-dreaming a bit, just filling in time until we are called into the doctor’s surgery. This kind of passive waiting doesn’t require much energy or attention. It requires no commitment on our part. If God wants us, we figure He is all-knowing and He knows where to find us. In the meantime, we focus on our own concerns, and look after our own creature comforts. There is no need to bother about prayer, studying Scripture, or deliberately living the Christian life at all.

Conversely, we can be like the young boy at the train station, and we can wait with eager expectation. This waiting involves actively and deliberately living the Christian life, going out of your way to serve others and not just selfishly looking after your own needs. Because we believe Jesus will return, we wish to imitate the servant in the parable who waits expectantly for his Lord's return. Advent is the season of watching and waiting. We ought to actively wait for the Lord's return. Let us prepare for His return in glory, so that we "will be faultless on the Day of our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Cor 1:8).

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