Waiting for Heaven | Sojourners

Waiting for Heaven

Two boys wait for Santa. Image courtesy Tomsickova Tatyana/shutterstock.com
Two boys wait for Santa. Image courtesy Tomsickova Tatyana/shutterstock.com

Sometimes when they’re waiting for an athlete to get out of the shower and talk about the game, sportswriters pass the time by estimating how much time they’ve spent during their careers waiting for an athlete to get out of the shower so they can be interviewed.

Trust me, it’s a lot. We’re not talking hours and days here. And often, the athlete finally gets to his locker and decides he’s not in the mood to talk. Or he just talks in clichés. "Tried my best." "Gave 110 percent." "It is what it is." Blah blah blah …

All the waiting feels like a waste. That was a part of your life you’ll never get back. 

The next time you’re stuck having to wait, think about how much of your life is spent waiting. It’s mind-boggling! Waiting in the check-out line. Waiting in the doctor’s office. Waiting for the traffic light to change. Waiting for the test results. Waiting those nine months until you can give birth. 

Life is often about waiting. And if you’re like me, you don’t really care all that much for that part of it. 
And there’s a flip side: Others spend a lot of time waiting on us. Our parents are waiting for us to grow up and act more mature. Our teachers are waiting for us to finally grasp a concept. Those who love us are waiting for us to be touched and transformed by that love. 

Life involves a lot of waiting, both ways. 

At this time of year, we‘re especially reminded of it.  Christmas involves a season of waiting. It’s also woven into the traditions of many different religions. 

We hear talk about waiting for some sort of savior to come and free us from whatever is holding us back. Waiting for God to intervene and take our lives in a different direction. Waiting for dawn to arrive and end the long and lonely night we often feel in the pit of our soul.

One common Advent image is that of the pregnant woman waiting to give birth, which also ties into the nativity story that defines the season. What are we waiting for? When will the waiting end? How long are we going to have to stand around? 

Unfortunately, religious practices can degenerate into nothing more than waiting. We wait for God to respond to a prayer and make things go the way we want. We wait for God to right a wrong. Wait for God to set things straight. Wait for God to change the world. Change our lives. Please!

But wait! What if we‘ve got it backward? To revisit that waiting-goes-both-ways thing: Instead of us waiting on God, what if God is waiting on us? 

John Dominic Crossan poses that question in his book The Power of Parable. He notes something that’s obvious: Jesus could be very impatient. He wasn’t one to just sit back and wait for things to change. As Crossan sums it up: “You have been waiting for God, he said, while God has been waiting for you. No wonder nothing is happening. You want God’s intervention, he said, while God wants your collaboration. God‘s kingdom is here, but only insofar as you accept it, enter it, live it, and thereby establish it.”

See someone hungry? Get them something to eat now. Don’t wait! Go and visit those who are imprisoned at this moment. Stop and help the person bleeding by the side of the road today. Instead of waiting for the Sabbath to end, do something this instant to help the wounded person heal.

You want the world to be a better place? Do something to make it so. You want peace? Work for it. Joy? Do something that makes you joyful, then spread that joy to others. And it doesn’t have to be a spectacularly grand act. Something little is fine — God works through the little things. 

But what’s important is to do it now. This moment is a gift. This opportunity to love someone else is too precious to waste. 

There’s so much to be done — needy people to be helped, hurting people to be healed, conflicts to be calmed, societies to be changed, hatred to be transformed into love. 

If all we do is sit and wait for things to change, then we’re like people trapped in a perpetual state of Advent. We never get to our own Christmas morning. We do nothing more than wait. 

And all the while, someone is waiting on us.

Joe Kay is a professional writer living in the Midwest.