What are you waiting for?
If you wanted to sum up the meaning of Advent, this beautiful and haunting season of waiting, you could do it with just one question: What are you waiting for? Most people, I suspect, would say, very simply, we’re waiting for Christmas. But aren’t we all waiting for something deeper, aren’t we all of us always looking over the hill for something greater?
On this first Sunday of Advent, I’d like to tell you a story that might speak to that deeper longing.
On Thanksgiving day, Bill and Kate went to the Tivoli Diner to have their Thanksgiving meal. It was too much of a bother to cook in the apartment—all that fuss, all. the hassle at the stores, all the leftover food. And for what? It was just the two of them, 49 years together and alone in their marriage, no need to go to all that trouble to make a Thanksgiving meal for just the two of them.
Bill didn't even order the turkey special: he had the meatloaf dinner. Kate went for the turkey, but she substituted french fries for the mashed potatoes and gravy. She didn't care for their mashed potatoes, or their canned gravy
They sat at a booth at the far end of the diner. It wasn't very crowded on Thanksgiving, just a few tables of young single people, and several older couples. Behind the counter, the server had a little ceramic turkey pinned onto her blouse, just underneath her nametag, which read "Sally".
For most of the meal, Bill and Kate ate silently, their mouths working the meatloaf and the stuffing, their eyes concentrating on the food, barely acknowledging the partner across the table. Kate looked at Bill's plate and said, "You're not going to eat your pickle?" and he just pointed to it, and she picked it off his plate and placed it on her own, next to the little paper cup holding her cranberry sauce.
At the end of the meal, Bill picked his teeth with a toothpick, Kate took out her compact mirror and reapplied her very red lipstick, they paid their bill and left the restaurant. It was already dark and they walked slowly and wordlessly back to the Oval. There was one small light on the skating rink which dimly lit up the ice, but it was empty.
When they got to the hallway outside their door, they could hear the noisy Thanksgiving party in their neighbor’s apartment. They had five children who clearly had never been properly disciplined by their parents. Bill had been aggravated for months because the kids would run and make noise at all hours, and leave bicycles or errant toys in the hallway. He was worried that Kate would be injured as the children carelessly roughhoused with their horseplay in the hallway. It was an ongoing and sometimes nasty conversation with the parents, who didn’t seem to respect him or his 40 years residency in the building.
As Kate went inside the darkened apartment, turning on lights as she went room to room, Bill decided to go to the CVS to get milk for the morning, and as he turned towards the elevator, he failed to see a baseball on the floor, stepped on it, and fell onto his back. He had the wind knocked out of him, but he seemed to be ok, and picked himself up.
He went up to his neighbor’s door and rang the doorbell several times, but the noise of the party inside was so loud, they couldn’t hear it. That was the last straw. He was so mad, and so frustrated from years of this kind of stuff. He got a little crazed, his blood was pumping, and decided then and there to finally do something about it.
When he got to the ground floor, he walked to the Oval, and conceived a plan. He would tear a rip in his coat and his shirt, make a small cut on his arm to draw enough blood to make it look like he was seriously injured, mess up his hair, and walk with a painful-looking limp into the 13th precinct house of the police department. He would report that he had been injured by his neighbor’s children who were living without any proper adult supervision, and that they needed to be reported to child protective services.
“Yes”, he muttered triumphantly to himself, as his plan seemed to come together. The first thing he would need to do would be to get a knife at CVS to cut the fabric and his skin.
Bill began to walk more quickly around the Oval, heading towards the CVS on 23rd Street he knew would be open on Thanksgiving evening. Just as he began to approach the skating rink, he noticed that there were two dark figures on the ice, an adult and a child. He stopped before they saw him, but he recognized the man’s voice.
"Look, over there, Michael", said the man. Bill recognized it as the voice of his neighbor. Michael was his youngest son, who was about 4. "Over there, in the north, do you see that star, right next to that roof?" the man spoke again. "Uh huh," said a young voice.
There was a pause, and Bill could hear the sound of Thanksgiving, the distant sound of families together within all the apartments around the oval.
The father's voice broke the night air. "On the other side of that star... that's where God lives." There was another pause, and then the boy spoke. "And grandma too?" Another pause. "Yes, son, and grandma... on the other side of that star."
And now Bill could see the two of them, very dimly, his eyes adjusted to the darkness, and he watched the man pick his son up in his arms and embrace him, and kiss him on the cheek. And as they stood there on the ice looking at the Thanksgiving night sky.
Bill stood quietly beside the building as silent tears began to form in his eyes. He looked at the father and his son silhouetted on the ice and remembered his own childhood, the wonder of his youth, the promise of his marriage, the beauty of Kate on their wedding day. Inside of him at that moment, there were a million things going on, explosions in a heart that had been dormant and silent for too long. All at once it hit him what he had made out of his life, and what it was, at bottom, that he still wanted.
The man kissed his son again, and began to carry him back to the apartment house. Bill watched them disappear inside the vestibule, the door closing behind them. He stood there for a few minutes, and looked up at the star that hovered singly in the sky about the city in which he grew up, the city where he had met the love of his life. He went back into the apartment house and entered his apartment. inside, it was quiet and dark but for a few lights.
Kate was asleep in the bedroom. Bill got into bed under the sheets, and did something he hadn't done in years. He moved towards Kate, put his arm around her, and embraced her with a tenderness he didn't even remember ever possessing. She awoke, and for a moment, didn't understand. And then, with a murmur, she grabbed his hand and held it tight. Bill kissed her, and in his wildest imagination dreamed of asking her for a child, a miracle, which at that moment seemed more than possible to him.
The word Advent is from the Latin, meaning “coming to”. In this season of Advent, we are deliberately invited to explore what we want in our lives, what we want to come to us. This Advent, we are invited to explore what miracle we need in our lives, what will make our hearts complete.
Shall we take these next four weeks and explore together the miracles we need? Shall we accept the invitation of the Holy Spirit to watch and wait for that which really matters to us? What are you waiting for, my sister and my brother?
May your Advent be filled with new promise, and may the Lord come to each and every one of us with great power and glory!