christmas ornamentBarren, brown ground and leafless trees are my landscape as I stare absently through the bus window. I’m on my way to visit my parents, taking a Greyhound bus from Boston to Rochester, New York.  I am not a bus traveler, preferring the imagination that planes and airports afford to the bleak of bus stations, seemingly always in depressed downtown areas, where any attempts to make them nice feel thwarted by economics and defeat.

The landscape feels absent, void, lifeless. It is a picture of a world waiting.

And December, above all, is a month of waiting. Some of this waiting is hopeful and some of it is terrible. The hopeful waiting comes in white lights and kitchens that smell of butter and cinnamon, Carols that speak of a coming King, hushed churches filled with candle light. The terrible waiting comes in the form of diagnoses of cancer and news of death; in the people who still occupy the streets, despite cold and snow; in the knowing we are part of a world broken, not yet fixed.

Yesterday I found out that someone dear to me is full of the insidious parasite that goes by the name of cancer. I found out just as I was ready to board a crowded subway that would take me home at the end of a tedious workday. Tears filled my eyes, tears that I had to control because it wasn’t safe to cry. Not there. Not in a public space.

Later I heard the news of the death of Nelson Mandela, a man whose commitment to forgiveness and reconciliation was a challenge and model. A man whose death will be felt by his nation and the world.

If Shakespeare were to write a play about December it would be a mixture of tragedy and joy. Why is it that so much hard news comes in December? Why is it that this is when the body is found to be so full of cancer that a person’s lifespan is suddenly reduced to months not years? Why is it that marriages are at their most fragile during this time? Why is it that even as we wrap presents, we are aware that next year, the person we love will no longer be with us?

The calls for happiness that assault us from television screens and advertising seem at best irrelevant, at worst like a mockery of our grief.

Yet isn’t this life in all its complexity?  One weeps while the other shouts for joy; one has plenty and the other crawls their way to a homeless shelter; one has health while the other faces death. One land has peace while the other has war.

So as I look out the window and see barren from a land that just weeks ago was filled with the brilliance of fall colors, I think of Advent. For Advent is about waiting, about coming, about expectancy. It is hope combined with longing. It is joy combined with sorrow. It is living between the already here and the not yet. Advent is December in all of its contrasts, all of its paradoxes, The sorrow is strong, but hope is stronger still.


No longer will violence be heard in your land,
    nor ruin or destruction within your borders,
but you will call your walls Salvation
    and your gates Praise.
The sun will no more be your light by day,
    nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you,
for the Lord will be your everlasting light,
    and your God will be your glory.
Your sun will never set again,
    and your moon will wane no more;
the Lord will be your everlasting light,
    and your days of sorrow will end.
Then all your people will be righteous
    and they will possess the land forever.
They are the shoot I have planted,
    the work of my hands,
    for the display of my splendor.
The least of you will become a thousand,
    the smallest a mighty nation.
I am the Lord;
    in its time I will do this swiftly.”  Isaiah 60: 18-22

Note: Fridays with Robynn will be back next week. Robynn is in India and says this: “Tandoori Chicken from a street side food cart on day one. Taxi rides through crowded city streets on day two. Sweet reunions with wonderful friends. We are having, quite literally, the time of our lives! Thanks for your prayers and well wishes!”


8 thoughts on “Waiting

    1. Thank you ….it’s actually my aunt :( It was not common knowledge at the time of the writing but now within days she’s gone onto hospice and the family is reeling. So thank you more than you know.


  1. This is why the past two years we have not focused on peace or joy in our Christmas greetings, but hope. Our friends from Syria see no peace and our friends from Afghanistan have no joy as they wait for their family member to get visas before they, too are killed. The words seem hollow. Hope, however, overpowers the worst news without belittling current pain. The hope that advent brings. Even in December.


    1. I love this. I am so grateful to you for this comment. Your words: “Hope….overpowers the worst news without belittling current pain” are so wise and encouraging to me. From the seat of a greyhound bus – thank you!


  2. Yes and Amen. Decembers are hard in our cancer center, at least in my disease group. Ours began in November with record number hospital admissions which have continued on into December, and also losing many to this life that we have journeyed with. I so appreciate your application of Advent and of expectant waiting. I have been pondering what I will share as a devotional next week at a Christmas gathering for our church women and you have helped me consider the topic of waiting and of contrasts. Our church is an urban church (2 blocks from the now infamous Seymour Ave) where you often do not ask where you live but where are you staying. We know intimately those contrasts among our fellowship, but also see beauty in the same as we see much more the brilliance of grace against the black backdrop. I have so wanted this Advent to prepare my heart in all the business of work, craziness of family relationships. disappointments, devastating diagnoses of loved ones and yet the pleasures and joys of the seasons and the fresh fallen snow outside my window that reminds me of the benefit of His incarnation, “though your sins be as scarlet they shall be as white as snow. Is 1:18 Thank you, Jesus. And thank you Marilyn for taking pen to hand and ministering to so many through your words. Enjoy your time with your parents.


    1. So glad to hear from you on this. When I worked in oncology there was rarely a holiday that went by where I wasn’t with a family who had just lost someone they loved. It makes you simultaneously question all of life, even as you cling to the One who authors life and gives hope. Thanks for your words.


  3. Marilyn,
    Beauty of December — sunshine glistening on white snow; children laughing as they play in the snow; December birthdays; preparing for Christmas (baking, cooking); house filled with laughter and wonderful smells; December 6th — celebrating St Nikolaus; reflecting on the year almost past on each Advent; celebrating Christmas — Christ’s birth …. December embodies warmth, love, second changes and more…
    Wishing you a blessed December!


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