CathBlog - 2010: the year of waiting


I have always tried to avoid hospital Emergency facilities, preferring to run the gamut of near-death experiences. But recently we found ourselves in Emergency Departments on a weekly basis in three different hospitals. 

There may be vast differences in terms of ambience between different emergency facilities but they all have two things in common. The standard of care is second to none and the waiting is forever. 

It has been a year of waiting. From a hung parliament to a hung Grand Final, to an almost hung Victorian State election, Australians have got used to waiting. 

We have waited for those excruciatingly slow vote counts, for the excruciatingly slow final whistle, for the excruciatingly slow negotiations and/or concessions of defeat. For a society which doesn’t know the meaning of deferred gratification we have had a torrid time of it. 

But our waiting has been considerably benign compared to others caught up in a ‘hopeless of waiting’. Refugees and asylum seekers waiting seemingly endlessly for a bureaucratic system to process their lives; the mining community on two continents waiting for news and the rescue of loved ones; victims of floods, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis and famines waiting for food, medical aid, a more benign face of nature, in a sea of tents, mud, ash and hopelessness. 

Waiting by its very nature challenges our sense of control over our lives. It is filled with angst or anxiety, rage or fear, anticipation or boredom. 

We enter a parallel universe with a different time frame to the one we usually operate by. We might know the outcome – sitting by the bed of someone we love who is dying, for example – but we cannot anticipate the hugely disruptive effects of the consequences of that outcome. 

How will we cope without a beloved family member or a roof over our heads or the breakdown of our health or our life as we’ve known it up to this point in time? We rarely associate waiting with anything but misgivings.

Yet, during Advent, Christians associate waiting with great joy. In four short weeks we revive the enduring hope of humankind over several millennia, the expectation of the birth of a Saviour, a Messiah. 

Our Advent liturgies and rituals re-enact our anticipation of an extraordinary event. This Messiah is not just a Very Special Person, he is to claim that he is related to the Divine in a very special way, in fact that he is the Son of God. Although we know the outcome, we still celebrate that patient waiting for something momentous to happen. 

But our society is not so patient. There must be something we could be doing while we‘re waiting. So Santa Claus and Christmas Trees and turkeys and ham and mincemeat tarts and shopping and shopping malls and Christmas cards and presents and wrapping paper and a whole parallel world of consumer distractions were invented lest the awesome truth of Christmas – our God becoming incarnate - overwhelm us and bring us crashing to our knees (and therefore unable to shop) in humble adoration.

But the Spirit of Christmas lives on; in Nativity scenes, not just in churches but in shop windows and malls and waysides; in Christmas carols with their familiar, beloved messages of hope; in cards which definitively keep the ‘Christ’ in Christmas; in the everyday greeting between people of all religions, ages, genders, colours and climates ‘Peace my friend’; and in the renewal of hope for a world redeemed.

Elizabeth McKenzieElizabeth McKenzie is editor of the Tinteán magazine of the Australian Irish Heritage Network.

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