We are now in the second week of Advent, a time of waiting for the coming of Christ. As we wait, we prepare through our reading and prayers. As any child waiting for Christmas will tell you, waiting is hard. Fortunately, this is not an empty waiting, but a waiting that is full of hope in God’s promises. On Christmas we celebrate the fulfillment of that promise in the birth of Christ, and for many children (but, we need to remember, not all) the waiting is celebrated with gifts.
In Samuel Beckett’s absurdist play, Waiting for Godot, we see a period of waiting that is not fulfilled. As the two central characters wait, we all wait with them. They are supposed to meet Godot, but we never know why and we never find out who Godot is. There is only a promise of a meeting, but one with no meaning. So the waiting is an empty waiting for an unfilled promise. It is an excruciating waiting as one of the characters says “Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it’s awful!”
Grief is another form of waiting and one that feels more like Beckett’s play than Advent. During this time of COVID many are learning to wait as we celebrated Thanksgiving without extended family and look to a Christmas with fewer people. I’ve been waiting to see my granddaughter for too long, but it is a waiting of promise as I know I’ll see her again. It is difficult, like a child waiting for Christmas, but the time will come.
But the grieving are waiting for someone who will not come. I miss my six-year-old and I will not see him again. For the last seven years I’ve waited with no hope of hugging him, and I’ll continue with that wait. Us Christians like to say we’ll be reunited in Heaven (although there is not much scriptural basis for that belief), but that does not make the waiting in life any easier. We feel like characters in Beckett’s play, waiting without hope.
Can those of us in grief learn anything from the waiting of Advent? While the waiting of Beckett’s characters is one of nothingness, the waiting of Advent is one of preparation. It is an active waiting of prayer and worship instead of an empty waiting. Can we turn the time of grief from Beckett’s painful emptiness to one of preparation? Although scripture has plenty of examples of patient waiting, there is also frustration. Psalm 13 opens with four cries to God of “how long” must we wait. Paul teaches in Romans that we “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.”
Scripture shows us that we are not alone in our endless waiting and the fact that we “groan inwardly” as we proceed through life. But the pleas of “how long” are always balanced by messages of hope. While the one we grieve cannot return, we can use our loss as a way to prepare for our own death. The tradition of memento mori, “remember your death,” is one of living a life not of waiting but of doing, of preparing. We can fall into the hopeless waiting of Beckett’s characters, or we can live with the hope of God’s promises while living in the presence of Christ. Our faith is a faith of hope not just for future promises, but for the present comfort, support, and challenges that God provides. We are in a waiting time of promise instead of a waiting time of emptiness. Our time of grief can be one of active waiting in which we live fully to honor those we grieve and live fully into our faith. It is an Advent lesson worth learning.
I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.Psalm 130:5