Andrew Cheung explores what active waiting and action look like during the Advent season.
Andrew Cheung is a self-professed “spiritual mutt within Christian orthodoxy” and is currently serving as the senior pastor at Washington Community Fellowship, a multi-denominational church affiliated with the Mennonite Church USA in Washington, D.C. Andrew also serves on the Racial Justice Task Force for the Virginia Mennonite Conference and as a board member for Evangelicals 4 Justice. In his downtime, he is often outdoors, exploring new neighborhoods on his bicycle or finding new places to rock-climb with his family.
Air travel has not been kind to the Cheung family this year. On more than one occasion, inclement weather and flight crew capacity has resulted in flights being canceled or re-routed, turning direct flights into multi-leg, whole-day ordeals.
On one such trip, my phone notification dinged with the dreaded flight cancellation text message when we were en route to the departure airport. Upon arrival, I saw the flight status board lit up bright red, with multiple cancellations and a long line of passengers waiting for airline staff to assist. I stepped into the line and overheard others complaining about their travel disruptions.
I kicked into “taking-care-of-business” mode, thinking, “I’m not waiting around for airline bureaucracy to solve this for me.” As the line meandered through queue-divider purgatory, I fired up the airline website on my phone to book alternate flights, while, at the same time, remaining on hold with customer service. We eventually got our flight rebooked and arrived to our destination late, which required some further travel plan adjustments. Whether it’s true or not, I like to credit my three-prong “active waiting” approach.
The season of Advent is often seen as a season of waiting. But this waiting is not a passive waiting.
It’s not just waiting around — like waiting around for your canceled flights to be rescheduled. It is a kind of waiting that is pregnant with action. Scan the Year B Lectionary readings and observe the kinds of actions God’s people are encouraged to take: “restore,” “keep awake,” “make way,” “prepare,” “proclaim,” “rejoice!” Week 2 of the Lectionary reveals a particular activity for God’s people, as we anticipate the next arrival of God’s son, Jesus. While waiting, Jesus-followers “prepare the way” (Isaiah 40:3) and “in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home” (2 Peter 3:13, NRSV). Psalm 85:13 adds, “righteousness will go before him and will make a path for his steps” (Psalm 85:13, NRSV). Put together with Isaiah’s descriptions of mountains being brought low and valleys raised up, we get the picture that the work is cut out for Jesus-followers in this now-but-not-yet time before Jesus’ return.
In a season of global geopolitical upheaval, climate change realities and divisive political/ideological disputes, we may be tempted to hunker down in our own little communities, attempting to recapture Norman Rockwell-esque Christmas memories. But active waiting implies a different kind of waiting.
Preparing the way for Jesus, in which “righteousness will go before him and will make a path for his steps” means that Jesus-followers take seriously the work of righteousness. Righteousness here is not to be understood as self-righteousness, or merely as a particularly 21st century American expression of individual moral uprightness. Instead, biblical righteousness is about restoring relationships in all the areas in which relationships are broken and incomplete. The arc of God’s righteous work in Scripture and in human history bends this way. The question is whether God’s people will join God in that good work now.
Our activity doesn’t make God do anything differently, but it does make our world different. It makes it more like the way it will one day be.
There’s another aspect to our active waiting. Because the completion of this righteous work doesn’t depend on us, it frees us from getting our sense of value and significance from our activity. It also frees us from debilitating anger when our activity does not bring the results we expect. Doing the work of righteousness in this present life isn’t what brings us hope. It’s Jesus who will complete the work of righteousness in creation. Our hope is in him and the arrival of his kingdom.
Wherever you find yourself this Advent season, whatever may burden your heart in this world, may you be attentive to the work of Christ’s peace that is already at work in and around you. Wait actively. Act patiently. And patiently hope until Christ comes again.
 Full acknowledgment: Complaining about air travel is indeed a privileged, first-world problem!
The views and opinions expressed in this blog belong to the author and are not intended to represent the views of the MC USA Executive Board or staff.
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