As we celebrate Christmas, let us remember what we are celebrating. The manger scene would not have been the beautiful one we depict. Instead, a young couple of color with the woman about to give birth are on the road but can find no place to stay. And so they seek shelter, most likely in a cave, where someone kept animals. Nowhere does scripture say it is stable. And in this dark and dirty place, the time of birth comes. There is no doctor, nurse, or midwife to help with the delivery. Men did not help with such things in Joseph’s culture, and so he would have known nothing of what to do. But there was just Mary and him. As terrifying as it must have been, with the pain, with the dirt, and with the blood, somehow the birth was completed. But then, what to do with this child? They had some cloth bands, so they used them to wrap this new child and laid him in a trough from which animals feed.
"Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn." (Luke 2:4-7 NRSV)
We wait. We expect something. Something better! In particular, the season is waiting for the birth of Jesus or, in other words, Christmas.
But most of us do not like to wait. Most of us are not particularly good at it. Most of us are no longer the child who can hardly wait until Christmas arrives to see what presents we will get from Santa and others. Instead, we fill the Advent season with mad Black Friday shopping, figuring out what gift to get each person, putting up the Christmas tree and other decorations, sending out the Christmas cards, wrapping packages, and preparing treats and other foods. Individually, some of these activities are pleasant if not favorites. But in total, they can leave us a stressed-out mess.
We tend to do the same when expecting a new child, especially a first child, in the family. We gather and read books on how to take care of a baby. We get the baby's room painted and decorated. Then there is the purchase of a crib and a multitude of other items the new baby will need. We prepare birth announcements and compile the list of people to send it to. Others may host baby showers for us. Again, these are all good and often enjoyable things to do. But the rush of activity also hides our inability to wait.
This is not what Advent is trying to teach us. Advent teaches us to wait expectantly. In a word, "expectant waiting" is patience. The birth of a child is not going to come any sooner just because we want it to. Christmas is not going to come any sooner just because we want it to. We simply must wait. Yet, we can wait with hope.
Perhaps this terrible experience of COVID-19 can and is teaching us something about how to experience Advent. We so want it to be over, and things return to normal! But except for a few scientists working on vaccines, the vast majority of us can do little to help restore normalcy. Yes, we can take essential steps to make the impact of this pandemic less severe and doing so can save lives. But that is not the same as the pandemic coming to an end. For that, all we can do is wait. We can choose to wait patiently, even as our lives are disrupted. We can also choose to live in the hope that the future will be better than the present.
Advent is also the time in the church year, where Christians are to focus on Christ's second coming. It is evident in the scripture that the first Christians thought this event would happen soon, as in their lifetime. Today, across Christianity, there is a wide variance of beliefs about the nature of this event. But that is not relevant here.
The relevance is that here we are 2,000 years later, and that event has not yet happened. Nevertheless, Christians still in faith wait expectantly for that event. Even after 2,000 years of waiting, we still believe. That is patience. That is Advent.