Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God (Matthew 5:8).
The name for this season, “Advent,” means the arrival of something much anticipated and desired. Shopping, decorating, feasting, singing, and visiting have everything to do with the season if and only if they build our anticipation of the answer to all our hopes and more than we ever dared hope. Otherwise, holiday pastimes amount to, well, something to do better next year.
“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope,” sings the psalmist, and I wonder if it occurred to the psalmist or anyone singing along that we are all dying. Although denial of eventual death gets us through our days, some level of awareness of our mortality, some decision about how to face our finitude shapes us. Whether waiting burdens or blesses us depends on how we deal with the death we are dying even as we await the advent of something wonderful.
In a retreat for psychotherapists, mindfulness meditation teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, taught about the cereus flower in Viet Nam that blooms for about an hour in the evening. People gather to watch and savor every moment of its fragile beauty. Only in those brief moments does the cereus flower spring to life among them. They do not worry about afterward. The bloom gathers up time precisely because of the brevity and beauty of its visit.
Jesus taught us to wait for him in that spirit:
Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you’ (Luke 17:20-21).
He said that during his historical ministry. But he made sure we knew that his resurrection means that he remains among us:
And remember, I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20).
Those who gather to admire the flower do not feel anxiety about its future, for they have it only in the present. Knowledge that the cereus flower’s bloom will soon pass invites a decision: Admire the sight and fragrance of it now, or miss it altogether.
Those who wait for Christ know that unlike the flower, Christ is always with them. But they know that they are dying, that every moment presents an unrepeatable opportunity to be with Christ even as they wait. Jesus moved back and forth between speech of the kingdom coming and present. We wait for him by being with him.
And how shall we be with him as we wait? Love not only nourishes the beloved, it opens the eyes of the one who loves. “Keep awake, watch,” he taught between healings and feeding crowds and merciful miracles. Love and you will see.