Tuesday, December 17, 2019

"Who is Coming to Our House?" and the Gift of Waiting

Long before working on this Advent picture book project, I read Joseph Slate’s Who is Coming to Our House? and immediately loved it. It’s another one of those Nativity stories full of animals, yet it’s also very different.

With beautiful woodcut-type illustrations, Joseph Slate and illustrator Ashley Wolff show a cozy barn full of animals. They all ask, “Who is coming to our house?" “Someone, someone,” says the mouse. And then they take turns, making the barn a welcomed place for this special Someone.

At its core, this is a story about waiting. Active waiting. The kind of waiting we usually aren’t very good at. What will be do, as we wait for baby Jesus arrive? Will we ready a space for Him? Clean out the corners, lay out new hay? If we are honest with ourselves, we like to jump right past the waiting part and take on active endeavors. We are nothing like the industrious rams, lambs, and geese. The tasks we like to set our minds to, are just that—things to ease our consciences and tell ourselves that we’ve got everything under control.

Last week, Dorcas Cheng-Tozun published an article entitled The Grace of Waiting: Advent 2019. She has a lot of say on this topic. And even though it doesn’t make sense at first glance, as I read her words, I immediately thought of Slates picture book. For the industrious waiting of the animals seems to highlight what Cheng-Tozun wants us to bear in mind. She says,
Advent is all about waiting — until it’s not. . .

I have come to believe that, oftentimes, we need the waiting period. We need that time to wonder and worry and wander. We need the opportunity to try almost everything else: Can I fix it myself? Can I make this better? Can I find answers elsewhere?

And then, only then, are we ready to see the work of God. The failures, the missteps, the despair, the many, many disappointments — these both break and rebuild us.

In my most painful times of waiting, I have seen my own sense of control crumble. My ego has been severely deflated. The priorities that should never have been priorities fall away. And that creates space for me to see a little more clearly what’s real and true, what matters and what’s eternal.

. . . We need to be readied for change, and that takes time. So God waits. And he lets us wait with him. It may seem like we don’t bear much fruit during these arduous, confusing liminal spaces, but we can build up our courage, our faith, our hope, which in turn builds up our capacity to flower and bloom when the time is right.
The animals have done everything in their power to ready the barn for their special guest. And yet, some still doubt. “But it is dark,” says the cat. “They will never come,” says the rat. This is the moment when the waiting seems the hardest and most perplexing. But it’s also the moment when faith steps in. “Yes, they’ll come,” says the Mouse. “Someone’s coming to this house.”

And off in the distance, Mary and Joseph are seen, approaching at the barn. A short while later, all the animals look down upon a new baby in Mary’s arms and say, “Welcome, welcome to our house!”

Events hardly happen simultaneously. Time is ordered. Waiting is built in to prepare us for whatever is next. Yet the God of all space and time doesn’t leave us to get lost in this chronology. As He waits to introduce the next note, the next step, the next sneeze, He lets us to participate in the story and wait with Him. He doesn’t have to. But He chooses to include us, the ordinary characters full of worries, doubts, and refrains.

I wonder if this might change our idea of waiting this Advent. Waiting as a gift? I know it’s given me reason to pause.

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