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  • Writer's pictureAaron Mead

Advent Waiting


Lit Advent candles

Since graduating from university, I've sought elusive satisfaction in my work. I've been a water engineer (and continue to be one), I completed a PhD in philosophy, I tried academia. And now I write.


Writing comes closest to scratching the itch—when words and ideas flow, I lose track of time, and I experience deep joy. But flies still sully the ointment. My time for writing is chronically short. I crave full, consecutive days, weeks, and months to write, yet my reality is writing in ragged snatches, wedged among quotidian duties.


I also yearn for a wider audience. My best work—a novel manuscript I spent six years writing and one year fruitlessly pitching to agents—has yet to see the light of day. Beyond some writerly friends and a few helpful editors, no one has read it. It languishes on my computer, two unnoticed megabytes, alongside last year's tax records and invoices from our latest home repair. Writing is an act of communication; after a while, if no one's listening, it's hard to see the point.


Back in September, I sent the manuscript to an indie publisher that seemed a good fit. An autoresponse told me their review backlog was two-to-three months. Though I imagine the holidays have made it three-to-four months, I'm still checking my email too often, and when I check it I have one thing on my mind. Expectantly, hopefully, anxiously, I'm waiting to hear from the publisher.


Advent Waiting?


Since it's Advent, and Jesus is my Man, the waiting seems appropriate. Advent is, after all, the season when followers of Jesus wait. And there's a straightforward way in which my wait for a publishing deal is waiting for Jesus to act. As Messiah, I take Jesus to be a member of the Trinity, that divine trio in charge of providence, and so I understand a big thing like a publishing deal—a thing that feels, at this point, mostly out of my control—as an opportunity my Messiah either will or will not afford. In this sense, and in this season, I wait for Jesus.


But is that the kind of waiting Advent's really about? Waiting for something you want from the Divine Vending Machine? Strictly, Advent's a season when believers wait for Jesus himself.


As a reenactment of the Bethlehem story, we wait for the Messiah child to be laid in a manger. But perhaps less figuratively (and more strangely), Advent is also about waiting for the return of Messiah—the second coming or "Parousia," as theologians might put it.


Believers understand the Parousia as that time when Jesus will return to finally and completely fulfill the promise of the gospel—to make God's kingdom evident, to establish justice and peace, to put sorrow and sighing to flight, to make all things new, to set all things right, to be fully and obviously present with his people.


Misplaced Longings


At my most lucid, I understand my longing for a publishing deal, and more generally the quest for satisfaction in my work, as a misplaced longing for the Parousia.


My culture says work can fulfill me. As an unavoidably cultural being, I've chased that dream for almost thirty years. Conclusion: I think my culture is wrong on this point. While a lucky few may experience something close to fulfillment in their work, there are always issues, problems, setbacks, and flaws. And for the less-lucky many (like me), work falls far short. If reality inevitably fails this dream, why do we keep dreaming?


I suspect it's because every human being, to some degree or another, longs for the satisfaction, the completion, the wholeness of the Parousia. It's just that we lack the will and spiritual vision to lodge this longing in the right place. Instead, we subvert it, channeling it into activities that can't bear its weight. My form of such idolatry has been work and accomplishment, but it takes myriad forms, including the pursuit of money, power, food, romance, sex, and art, to name just a few. As John Calvin put it, the human heart is a veritable "factory of idols."


Elizabeth and Zechariah


And yet. And yet.


This Advent, I'm working my way through a book of reflections on scripture called Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent by Enuma Okoro. So far, the book has focused on the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth—the "other" Advent story. Like Sarah, in the book of Genesis, Elizabeth had been unable to bear children and was beyond the normal age to do so. As many translations put it, she was "barren."


There are practical reasons Elizabeth and her husband, Zechariah, might lament this barrenness. Without children, there'd be no one to care for them in their old age, no heir to bear the family name and property, and none of the joy of raising children.


But I suspect their heaviest burden was the cultural stigma that came with barreness in first century Judaism. Since God had the power to open and close wombs, barrenness was tantamount to accursedness. As Okoro suggests in her book, Elizabeth and Zechariah's longing for a child must have felt deep and desperate.


So, what does God do? Against the grain of human biology, God grants them a son, John the Baptist, the prophet and forerunner of Messiah Jesus. God answered their culturally-conditioned longings in the culturally-approved way: God gave them a child.


Virtue as Ordered Love


This old story speaks to me. I don't know whether Elizabeth and Zechariah's yearnings leaned idolatrous. But the story does give me hope that God might yet open the door to publishing, despite the fact I (sometimes) load my writing life with too much baggage, seeking in it divinity it fails to possess.


Just as having a child is a good thing, writing remains a good thing, and especially so for me. The answer is not to jettison the good things we idolize. Rather, as Augustine might put it, the answer is to "properly order" our love for such things, which, for Augustine, is to take on virtue, to form good character.


Easier said than done. In this age between Advents, properly ordered love—a balanced love for good things that doesn't mistake them for God—will always be a struggle. Alongside the gracious and mysterious work of the Spirit, ordering our loves requires the practice of spiritual disciplines, Advent waiting not least among them.


Waiting shows me I can live without the good thing I wait for. Life goes on without a publishing deal; I won't die without it. Over time, this waiting shrinks my beloved object down to size, properly ranking its love below that for God, and thereby affords me a healthier, happier desire.


But what of waiting for God? The Advent lesson is not that we can live without God. Rather, Advent waiting teaches us to cope without the Parousia, to go on without God's manifest presence and its promise of all things right. In short, Advent waiting grows in us a master virtue essential to this tense age between, the virtue by which we cling to the hidden-for-now God, whom we'll one day see, that virtue we call faith.

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Guest
Dec 13, 2023

Interesting to read Aaron...another writer and another perspective on advent. The 4 weeks of advent focus on a theme each week. Love ,peace,joy and I hope your writing life involves all of these too. As a devout feminist I am still waiting too...for justice. The so called faith communities have much to think about in the historical treatment if women and girls. My writing passion comes from telling the stories past snd present that women have to share. So much work yet to do...no waiting on that front!xox

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Aaron Mead
Aaron Mead
Dec 14, 2023
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Thanks for reading. My writing life often does derive from, and give rise to, love, peace, and joy (as well as hope), though sometimes frustration, anxiety, and sadness also play a role! I am aware that those former attitudes are also part of how many mark and celebrate Advent (including me). I didn't mean to imply that my piece is the only way to think about Advent. It's just the way I've been thinking about it lately.


I agree that faith communities have much to repent of in their historical treatment of women and girls. The patriarchy within religious institutions has been, and continues to be, oppressive--though I'm happy to say I don't think it is that way in my…

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Guest
Dec 13, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Excellent reflection on advent.

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Aaron Mead
Aaron Mead
Dec 13, 2023
Replying to

Thanks for reading!

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