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Active Waiting

Advent – a season of looking forward

by Brian Radcliffe

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To explore patience, using the festival of Advent as a focus (SEAL theme: Managing feelings).

Preparation and materials

  • You will need a leader and three readers.

  • Have available the song 'Keep the car running’ by Arcade Fire and the means to play it at the end of the assembly.


Leader How impatient are you, I wonder? Are you like any of these students?

Reader 1 enters, stands with arms folded, tapping foot with impatience. Readers 2 and 3 follow, acting in the same manner.

Reader 1
I hate waiting. Why should I be made to stand here when I could be doing so many other things? Why can't I have what I want, when I want it? I want it and I want it now!

Reader 2 [Looking at watch.] When's it going to open? I haven't got all day! I need it now and I don't want to be made to wait. Who cares if there's a queue? I'm fed up with having to wait!

Reader 3 [Looking at mobile phone.] When's he going to ring? He's two minutes late already. If he doesn't ring in the next minute, then everything's off! You just can't depend on some people.

Leader We live in an instant society. We have instant coffee, instant access, instant credit and instant ready meals. Our mobile rings and we have to answer it, instantly. We see the latest clothes, gadgets, music, games and we want to have them immediately. Adverts encourage us to respond in this way, too. The offer lasts for two days only. Why wait? What is there to gain?

We are entering the Christian season of Advent. It starts on 30 November this year (2014) and ends on Christmas Eve.

For Christians, it's the season of waiting. First, Advent looks back to the centuries of waiting that the Jewish people experienced as they waited for the arrival of the Messiah – the leader God had promised would come, in the words of his prophets.

Christians believe that Jesus was that promised Messiah, so, at Advent, they spend a period of four weeks anticipating Jesus' birth on Christmas Day. The waiting theme of Advent doesn't end there, though. Christians also believe that Jesus is going to come again, this time to rule over the whole universe. Advent is therefore a time of also looking forward to that momentous occasion.

Have you ever considered that sometimes it might be useful for us to wait?

One of the big issues for many people nowadays is financial debt. In order to purchase something immediately, people take out loans and enter in to credit agreements that can easily spiral out of control. Unscrupulous lenders take advantage of this ‘now’ mentality and trap unwary buyers who aren't able to wait.

Waiting, however, gives us the opportunity to save for whatever we may crave. It may take weeks or months or even longer to save enough, but the freedom of buying with cash in hand is very liberating. There are no strings attached. There are no debts to pay.

Also, waiting gives us time to plan. Spontaneous acts and spontaneous purchases may be exciting, but sometimes afterwards we come to realize that we hadn't fully thought out the consequences. Getting a pet is a very good example of this. Where are we going to put it? How much time does it take to give it the care it needs? What about vets' bills? Waiting and planning may help us enjoy what we want to a far greater extent than if we hadn’t had that time to think the whole thing through and wound up making a terrible mistake.

Waiting can also increase our sense of anticipation. Christmas is better precisely because we can't enjoy it straight away. We make our lists. We draw up our plans. Similarly, holidays we're looking forward to build in our imagination. We can hardly wait, but we know we have to, so when the day finally comes, it's all the more enjoyable.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, waiting forces us to realize that we are not the centre of the universe. When we wait, we take account of other factors that exist in the world around us. Maybe it's the competing desires of others in our family or community. Waiting may allow someone else the opportunity to benefit now. When there's a limit on money, waiting may allow others to take their turns ahead of us.

Waiting encourages us to look around, consider who, what and when. Waiting helps us to realize that time and opportunity stretch out into a long future. Waiting gives us a different perspective.

Time for reflection

So you see, Advent is a time of waiting that has a useful purpose. A thoughtful Advent may very well create a more enjoyable Christmas.

Traditionally, Advent was a time of fasting – hard to imagine now, with all the parties and celebrations in the run-up to Christmas! Imagine, though, how good Christmas dinner would have tasted after a really frugal Advent!

Among the plans for presents, food and entertainment, spare a thought, too, for Jesus.

Dear Lord,
Thank you for the weeks of waiting that lead up to Christmas.
As we each write our Christmas lists, may we think of those around us, of their needs and desires.
May our planning also stretch further, to include the needy throughout the world and may we plan in a generous way.


'Keep the car running’ by Arcade Fire

Publication date: November 2014   (Vol.16 No.11)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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