From: Music As Prayer
When I was a child, my least favorite season was Advent, the season before Christmas. Why? Because Advent means waiting, and if there is anything that most children cannot do gracefully, it is wait. Why would any child want to wait for gifts? Let’s have them right now! Of course, we adults are also not that good at waiting. Have you ever stood in the grocery store’s express lane where a sign said, “12 items,” yet someone whose cart is packed to overflowing was in front of you? Have you stopped at a gasoline station behind someone who could not find their credit card or figure out how to operate the pump? Have you heard the public announcer in an airport say that your flight has been delayed and they will “keep you posted” about when the flight will board? Have you gone to the doctor’s office with great pain and heard the receptionist say, “Wait until we call you.” Have you whipped out your iPhone, eager to get your text messages, only to see the little circle going around and round searching for a connection?
The simple fact is this: to live is to wait. Do you want a child to be born? It will take nine months after conception. Do you want vegetables to eat from your garden? The seeds will produce fruit after the time programmed in their genes. Do you want to master all of the major Bach organ works? It will take years of studying and working on the fingerings, the registrations, the way you hear the multiple voices sounding against each other and coming together. Do you want to sing the Fauré Requiem with your volunteer church choir? It will take several months of rehearsal.
You must wait. Not a passive waiting but an anticipatory waiting, a waiting during which you do all that you can do – eating the right way when you are pregnant, weeding and fertilizing the garden when you want to harvest vegetables, practicing the passages that elude you as you strive to master Bach or prepare the Fauré Requiem – but still you must wait. What you wait for is not entirely in your control. There is a coming reality greater than the present moment, a reality for which you hope and yearn but do not command.
When you begin to understand the inevitability of waiting, you begin to understand Advent. It may be that you are not Christian or even a person of faith, but if you are human, you can still understand these reflections on waiting. To live is to wait. And this is why as I move toward being seventy years old, I find that Advent is no longer my least favorite season. It is my favorite season of faith. The first Sunday in Advent is the one Sunday I treasure above all others. To hear the aching, yearning plainsong of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is to have a community lift up the highest and holiest dreams of the human heart. We claim our connection to the whole human family: aching and yearning and hoping for redemption from the ugly and brutal ways we treat each other.
Organists help us to express this hope through long measures of suspensions that lead on and on as they move from key to key, until they finally arrive at the blessed resolution, a foretaste of the long-awaited birth.