Sometimes the church eats cake batter
I led a devotion this week at the conference office with eight or so conference staff members. It was a great way to start the day. After singing O Come, O Come Emmanuel, I stood in front of them and waited. I just watched the clock while they all looked expectantly at me.
20 seconds passed and my heart was racing.
30 seconds passed and I considered giving up and talking.
40 seconds passed–I seriously can’t take this anymore.
42 seconds passed–AHHHHHHHHH!
45 seconds okay, I’m going to pretend to turn to the scripture just so it looks like I”m not comatose
55 seconds there’s no way I can make it through two minutes
60 seconds “All creation waits, with groaning for the coming of the kingdom of God.” I spoke!
I hate waiting. Maybe it’s because I’m from NJ where time is a much more precious commodity, but I can’t stand to wait. When I moved to Texas (Fort Worth–where everything moves a little bit slower), I came close to losing it just about every time I went to the grocery store because they check out people talk to me!
‘I’ve got things to do, I”m never going to see you again…I’m sure you’re nice but do we really need to slow things down now so that I can learn that you like dogs too?’
I’m a good cook. I’m an awful baker because when you bake, you’ve got to get it all ready stick it in the oven and wait. You can’t check it’s progress, you can’t modify it and fix it to make sure it comes out okay. You just stick it in the oven and bake. I can’t do that! When I cook food, I’m constantly tasting, testing, adjusting and balancing flavors. Even with dishes that take a while to make, I don’t have to wait. With baking, there’s no way around it. You have to wait.
I asked the conference people how they felt while I stood in silence:
- worried for the presenter
- calm…it’s the first silence I’ve heard in a long time
WELCOME TO ADVENT
We live in a society dominated by instant gratification. Some attempts at the instant are trivial: instant soup, coffee, oatmeal–even Mac’n’Cheese. There’s instant messaging, text messages, twitter and cell phones to help us instantly get in touch. There are unfortunate expressions of our desire for instant gratification: abundant pornography, excessive debt and various addictions to name a few.
In a society of instant gratification, advent is a time that we embrace the awkward (anyone ever notice how awkwardly awkward is spelled?), choose the silence and worry–worry that things won’t come out right, that we’ve screwed something up. Advent is a time to worry. It is a time to wait. It is a time that is meant to make people worry–especially the powers that be! It is also a time to hope–a time to look forward to what might be. It is a time to build up expectations and make room for something new. Advent isn’t about instant. It’s about waiting.
Some of the longest waits of my life:
- 1 minute, 32 seconds…time it took for my wife to walk down the aisle
- 54 minutes…time the medical team tried to resuscitate the teenager who would lead to my first time telling a mother that her son was dead
- 3 hrs, 40 minutes…time it to for me to get in touch with one of my best friends after an airplane flew into her office building
- 6 hrs, 49 minutes…time from when I gave my 7 month-old daughter to a surgeon to repair her heart until I got to see her bright pink skin
- 2 weeks…time it took from the onset of contractions for one of my daughters until she was delivered (these two weeks were a lot longer for my wife)
- 10 years, 2 months…time it took for me to go through the ordination process
- 14 years, 0 days…time for my first real kiss (yeah, it was my birthday)
All of these were incredible waits, but all of them led to an incredible experience. When I look back, I know that the wait is part of what made them powerful and life-defining. There was something about the wait that made me value the moment. How does Isaiah put it?
“The strength of the Lord will rise as we wait”
Abrahm and Sarai waited…Joseph waited in prison…the Israelites waited in Egypt…then in the wilderness…then in the wilderness again…then they waited in Babylon…then they waited for a Messiah and it was good–it was beyond good!
But advent comes into out lives and so few churches wait for Christmas. Instead of birthday cake, we eat batter. Sure, it’s sweet, but it goopy, not fully formed and definitely not ready yet. Then we show up for the Christmas feast, having already tried the flavor. We’re still interested in the cake, yes, but less so than we might otherwise. And the cake doesn’t really come out right–it seems like those people who only showed up on Christmas and haven’t had any of the batter get more out of it than the church-goers.
Imagine the other side. Imagine if we actually observed advent and the smell of baking cake enticed us for weeks. Imagine how much we would want to eat that cake. Imagine how much better the cake would be if it was allowed to form properly.
Christmas is like this too. The Christmases in my life that have been the most powerful for me have been ones in which I have adopted practices of waiting and preparing and watching. I pray that I might have the patience this year to once again wait upon God’s time and the church’s time instead of my own.