When you are waiting, you are without what you are waiting for. As a new grandmother, I experience this absence in an intense way. On the second Sunday of Advent, I had to leave my post as chief cook and bottle washer after Lila was born. It's a role every grandmother covets and carries out with the greatest of love.
Since I live several states away, I won't be able to see her again for three weeks. During weeks three and four of Advent, I will not only wait for Christmas, but also I will wait to be reunited with Lila, this time with Grumps by my side; his wait to meet her is a little longer than mine. Waiting to see Lila again puts me in touch with the intense ache of being without what my heart longs for.
Perhaps this absence of what we most want is part of the reason we distract ourselves from the spiritual gift of Advent. Maybe it is the angst of waiting that compelled us to create fantasies of gifts, parties, feasts, and endless shopping during the season of Advent. It's hard to feel the absence of what you most desire when your mind is totally preoccupied otherwise.
When John the Baptist began preaching and baptizing in the wilderness, he was in the same state as we find ourselves at Advent. The Messiah’s coming had been prophesied hundreds of years before, and the state of Israel was desperately in need of rescue from the oppressive Roman government. It was a time much like our own. John, however, insisted that those who wanted to be ready to meet Jesus should focus on preparing and making their paths straight. The Gospel of Matthew says:
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near. This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: A voice of one calling in the wilderness, Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him (Matthew 3:1-2).
Clearly there are fulfilling spiritual tasks to focus on in Advent. Advent is not just about twiddling your thumbs, waiting on what you really want. Advent calls you to active waiting. You will not miss Advent if you prepare and make your paths straight. Traditionally, these four weeks before Christmas were days of fasting up until the Christmas Feast to celebrate Christ's birth with great joy prepared for a hungry tummy. It's an extremely difficult season to fast these days. In fact, you probably need to eat a high protein diet to keep up with the physically demanding tasks such as putting up Christmas lights, increasing your social life by attending parties and all that shopping!
However, you can prepare and make your paths straight by creating a quiet space just between you and your Lord each day of Advent.