But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his son . . . (Galatians 4:4-7)
It’s been snowing at my house.
Lightly, off and on. A sustained breeze will always bring a flurry and cover the grass with a fresh dusting – not of crystal flakes of frozen precipitation, but brown and brittle flakes from the large branches that canopy my yard.
The leaves on the ground are one thing, but it’s the leaves that have yet to fall that mock me. Thousands of them are still clinging to branches. I imagine them hanging there, laughing at my labor, waiting for the very moment when the grass can be seen again, and then letting go.
There’s a school of thought that says “don’t even bother.” Until every leaf is down it’s futile to rake them up. Maybe so. Maybe it’s best to wait for this season to run its course. In one way or another it seems we spend our lives waiting: waiting for leaves to fall and the seasons to change, waiting for the market to go up, waiting for something or someone to change, for the big break or the breakthrough.
There is a kind of waiting that lulls us into boredom and atrophies into neglect. But there is also an active waiting, a waiting that works. The work doesn’t hurry things along. It doesn’t exercise control or set the schedule. Rather, it makes ready. The work is preparation for what will be. This kind of waiting is vigilant, guarding against the inattention that slides toward forgetfulness and lands in despair.
In Galatians 4:4 Paul told the story of Christmas in one tight sentence. “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his son.” We begin our Advent reflections this week by meditating on the fullness of time. This much is clear: Whatever Paul meant by the ‘fullness of time,’ it was God’s doing. We did not bring it about. We receive it and enter into it. These weeks before Christmas (Advent) remind us that our primary task, as much as we may dislike it, is to wait.
Waiting, however, is hard work. We do not always do it well. Sometimes we get tired of waiting and decide to take charge. Sometimes we get tired of waiting and stop caring, allowing our waiting to become neglect.
Perhaps the work of waiting simply means doing what you’ve been given to do today. Bring your life before God. Be obedient in familiar and simple things. Love your neighbor, pay attention to your family, tell the truth, do good work, bless others with your words, give thanks for good health and good food, for trees and sky and all kinds of weather.
Tend to that plot of ground that is your life; go ahead and rake the leaves. You’re not wasting time. You’re getting ready.
"Come thou long expected Jesus, Born to set Thy people free; From our fears and sins release us, Let us find our rest in Thee. Israel’s Strength and Consolation, Hope of all the earth Thou art; Dear Desire of every nation, Joy of every longing heart.” (Come Thou Long Expected Jesus, Charles Wesley, 1745).