For many people the period leading up to December 25--Advent in western church tradition--is a time of preparation for Christmas. In eastern, or Orthodox, tradition this period is also called the Nativity Fast, and as in the season of Lent, it is a 40-day preparation for the coming of the Savior. Days are often characterized by instruction, prayer, fasting and almsgiving. The period can seem like a very long time of waiting and preparation, especially if it is for something that remains relatively uncertain or unclear.
But as people of faith, we are familiar with waiting. As the Psalmist repeatedly reminds us, “Wait for the Lord.” (Ps. 27:14) Noah waited forty days after it had already rained forty days and nights before he… Moses spent forty days on a mountain without food and water while writing the Ten Commandments and then… Goliath terrorized and goaded the Israeli army for forty days before David… Jonah warned the city of Nineveh that it had forty days to repent, then God… Jesus fasted forty days in the wilderness and then… and, Jesus appeared to the disciples during the first forty days after his Resurrection before…
In each of these cases there were multiple actors involved. Some waited patiently while wondering what was going to happen, others assisted in the preparations either hopefully or despite their uncertainty. Some plotted because they viewed indecision and inaction for such a length of time as a sign of weakness, and still others simply wondered why it was necessary to wait so long in the first place. Regardless of their intent, each situation resulted in a quality of salvation for an otherwise hurting world.
While the days leading up to Christmas may feel like a long time, as in the case of those biblical accounts, they are not without purpose. They do in fact lead to something decisive precisely because God is neither uncertain nor unclear, exhibiting deep and profound love for us and the whole of creation. God’s expression of love and saving grace continues to be as real and true, and as essential, today as in any other time in history.
So, what are you waiting or preparing for?
I hope that during this season, beyond gifts neatly wrapped under a tree, you are waiting for, preparing for, and expecting God to do something exquisitely loving, caring, and down right extraordinary in your life--that for you, God will open a new window to the world, speak a word you had never heard before, free you from the things you fear the most, lift you as if on angel’s wings, and bless you with the assurance that you are neither forsaken or forgotten. And may we in turn wait for and prepare for the day when the whole human family can feast at the banqueting table, cared for, well fed--enough for all!
In the Spirit,
Rev. John L. McCullough
Executive Director and CEO
Church World Service