The English word “Advent” comes from the Latin “Advenire” which means “to come.”

Something or someone is coming. And when something is coming we wait.

We are all waiting. We have hopes and expectations for how our lives ought to turn out.  We have wishes, desires, and longings that we project into the future. And so we wait.

Advent invites me to ask, “What am I waiting for?”  It is an important question.

Waiting is not a passive activity. When we wait for company we don’t sit around doing nothing. We tidy the house and prepare the dinner.

What we are waiting for gives shape to the present moment.

If we are waiting to make a great mark in our chosen career, we focus on developing our professional life. If we are waiting to make a million dollars, we spend our time pouring over our investment portfolio. If we are waiting to enjoy ourselves, we invest in exciting new recreational opportunities.

But, no matter what we are waiting for, Jesus says, we are going to get something unexpected.

There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud” with power and great glory. (Luke 21:25-27)

Apparently, whatever we are waiting for, what is coming is trouble.

It doesn’t matter who we are, or how successful we may be at creating a tidy life for ourselves, sometimes our world is going to be shaken.

Sometime, somewhere, somehow we are going to have the stuffing kicked out of us.  Everything in the outside world in which we seek a sense of security and identity will collapse. Life will not go on just as it always has.

We only increase our suffering if we trust the illusion that we are exempt from the changeableness and uncertainty of life.

Advent poses the question, “How are those things I spend my life waiting for preparing me to face those things I have not prepared for?”

Jesus gives us our waiting instructions.

Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man. (Luke 21:34-36)

“Be alert” and “pray.”

To “be alert” means to pay attention. One of the difficulties in sustaining a spiritual life is that the chaos and busyness of life cause us to fall asleep.  We sleepwalk through our days. The world’s clutter fills our lives. We fail to heed the quiet voice calling from the depths. We forget that the surface is not the whole of reality. We begin to believe that making things work on the level of pretty houses, nice parties, tidy children, and successful careers is the meaning of life.

Christmas helps us see that there is a whole mysterious realm to life which we often miss.

Hidden in the obscure streets of Bethlehem, a tiny infant was born to bring light to the world. If we hope to perceive this light, we must “Be alert” to reality, alert to truth, alert to the hidden dimension of life that is more real and more true than all those surface aspects which so often obscure our vision.

But how do I stay “alert”?  Jesus says,

Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place.

Prayer prepares me to for the unexpected because prayer is practice in surrender. When I pray, I exercise my letting go muscles.

Surrender is the only way to survive the inevitable struggles life brings. Surrender opens me to that grounded place of stability and peace where I am free to respond to the uncertainties and difficulties of life with clarity and strength. Surrender is not defeat; it is preparation for wisdom and decisive life-giving action.

Advent asks me to think seriously about how I am waiting. When I wait with surrender, my heart opens to receive the gift of love whose birth we prepare to celebrate in this Advent season.