Advent is all about waiting. However, I don’t believe it was standing in lines at Walmart, checking the door every five minutes for the UPS man, or even children sleeping with one eye open on Christmas Eve that inspired today’s word choice.
Instead, I turn to etymology to understand the virtue known as patience that we are enjoined to grow into during Advent. Patience entered English around 1200 via two routes, with slightly different meanings:
“Quality of being willing to bear adversities, calm endurance of misfortune, suffering, etc.,” from Old French; and directly from Latin, . . . “the quality of suffering or enduring; submission.”
Obviously, the Middle English speakers who gave us this rich and suggestive language of calm endurance lived lives both slower and much more subject to misfortune and suffering and tragedy. So the patience they learned was of sterner stuff than we can imagine in our rapid-fire lives of too much ease.
Another similarly hard lesson comes from the history of Advent observance itself. A season of solemn preparation for Christmas was practiced as early as 480, and in 567, the Council of Tours ordered that monks fast every day in December prior to Christmas. Over the centuries, Advent has been a traditional season of fasting, and even now, Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions practice some variation of the Nativity Fast. We, on the other hand, can’t even fast from Christmas trees and carols.
My prayer for the second half of Advent is that we will slow down and practice patience as we express our gratitude that we are not enduring suffering and misfortune, just waiting calmly for whatever miracles the season has in store.