Advent is. . . a Call to Patient Waiting
When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide;”
Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”
| British poet, John Milton (1608-74), knew what it meant to wait. This Puritan Christian, the writer of the magisterial “Paradise Lost,” who lived through the chaos of the English Civil War and who, midway through his life went blind, recognized that “to wait” has several important meanings.
Its most common sense is “to allow time to go by, especially while staying in one place without doing very much, until someone comes or until something you are expecting actually happens or until you can do something.” Is also means “to remain temporarily neglected and unutilized.”
Finally, and perhaps most importantly for Milton’s sonnet, it can mean “to attend, as a servant, as in ‘to wait upon’ and ‘to supply the needs of’ as a servant waits upon the Master.”
Milton uses all these meanings in the conclusion to the dilemma he poses in the first 13 lines of the sonnet. It is the dilemma of the person born with a major disability, of the person robbed midlife of an important faculty, of the disabled, of the elderly: how can I serve God when those capacities I was seemingly built for are snatched away? It is also the dilemma of all sinners trapped in our own powerlessness.
The Children of Israel yearned for the Messiah. Though they had the Law they did not yet have the Word. They waited in patient expectation.
“They also serve who only stand and wait.” Like the Hebrew prophets, holy men and holy women, ultimately, especially in Advent, we stand and wait, like servants at the door of the King’s Audience Room. We attend, we wait for the coming of the Messiah and we wait on the call of the King, ready to serve. And that waiting is service.