It was approaching 6 am, and the world was slowly turning grey around us. Scott and I were huddled together at a little bus stop, high in the Sierra, and had been up since 3:30 waiting for the one bus that would come that day to take us to Latacunga and on to the coast. The misty, green mountain landscape was silent around us, except for the occasional crow of a rooster, the quiet footsteps of a early morning traveler passing in the darkness on the road, or the stirring of the wind. It was slowly dawning on us that the bus wasn’t coming. Had we missed it? Had it broken down, as our bus had a few days before?

I hadn’t  really dressed for a long wait, and I was shivering, as we huddled together.  We were 4 hours form the Pan-American highway, in a remote part of the mountainous area, where your travel options were limited to occasional buses, the milk trucks or  horses or the beds of pickup trucks. One thought kept repeating itself that chilly morning; waiting is uncomfortable, foreign. I don’t have to wait very often and I don ‘t really like it.

Maybe in another season, the thought would have just passed me by. Maybe I would have scolded myself for being uncomfortable with waiting, maybe I would have praised the Ecuadorians I’d met who might wait for hours and not complain. This morning was different, though, because it is Advent, the liturgical season that symbolizes the Israel waiting for the arrival of the Messiah, who would deliver them, bring them hope, freedom.  It’s a season that celebrates waiting.

Several years  go I experienced the season of Advent fort the first time,  as many of our community from Evergreen img_04011and the Sumner House would gather nightly, sing a  song and read from “Watch for the Light” in the 4 weeks leading up to Christmas. What a magical time that was!  Many of us were waiting and hoping together, for hope, for freedom, for community, for kids, for love, for purpose. We learned together that so much more then Christmas presents, trees, songs, great food, parties, and cards, this was a season of waiting, hoping that the Light still shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.

This nightly tradition and contemplation has continued, and though we are far from the people we love, many of us , each in our own corner of the world, still nightly read the same readings, and together and share in the hope, the mystery, the waiting together.  This year, I have found a new aspect of waiting that I hadn’t understood before.  I realized on that cold morning, LONGING for the bus to come, that it had been a while since I longed for something, hoping against hope it would come to be. This kind of waiting is risky and is often to be avoided at all costs. We have the luxury, often, of meeting our own needs, or distracting ourselves in other pursuits to forget that thing we long for.

Working with the poor brings a new perspective to this waiting for me. My hands are so empty when I sit next to them, I have so little to offer the problems that break the hearts their hearts, so little to say when they share that things don’t look they will ever get better.  I worked with  a family in the macumafinal-127jungle who had a 2 month old little boy, names Sadam, who was born with a cleft palate,  My first thought when I saw him, ” this kids not going to make it.” When I heard more of the story, I came to understand it wasn’t that that this little guy wasn’t breastfeeding well, as I first thought, but that his father hadn’t wanted him to live.  Kids  in the jungle who are disabled in some way are often left in the jungle to die, as the family believes that they will be a burden if they can’t eventually care for themselves.  His mom had been feeding him secretly while dad was away, letting him cry in the corner when dad was home, pretending she was also just waiting for him to die. She had 3 other small kids, with big bellies, dirty faces, no clothes,  all under the age of 4 who were pretty much just left on their own. My heart breaks for these kids, for the kids in Africa who are not only hungry, but terrified, as war is a fact of life around them.  For the little girls all around the world, even in Portland, who are kidnapped into sex trafficking. For the kids who have lost the their parents to AIDS, to for the kid’s who learned to be soldiers before they learned to be kids, for the kids who are sick and have no hope of getting better.

macumafinal-1161I’m not trying be melancholy. I think about these kids all the time. I can’t understand why it’s so hard for them, why life has to be so painful. I so often feel so helpless, and know that these problems are so much bigger then I am. I guess that’s why Advent is really getting me this year. I’m finally understanding that I am waiting with them, holding on to a hope that a second Advent is coming, the Kingdom of God, where they will be the famous ones.   When, in the story of Jesus’ birth, the angel comes to Mary to tell her she’ll have a son, she celebrates, as a poor young woman herself, that Jesus coming means ” He has filled the hungry with good things, but has sent the rich away empty (Luke 1:53).” She celebrated  that Jesus was coming as a hopeful sign that things would not always be so hard for the poor.

Ah ha! I understand better  now that meaning of Advent, of waiting, often thanksgiving-057eludes us at  Christmas, because we often don’t  NEED it like the poor do. Full bellies need not  long for food, those without thirst need not dream of clean  water. In a world full of bad new for the poor, for the exploited, I finally have something to offer them.  Jesus came for them.  Blessed are you who are poor in spirit, the kingdom of God belongs to you (Matthew 5:4) . I finally have something to offer, a word of hope, of celebration for them. YOU are his favorites, YOU dirty, broken, poor, hungry. He’s coming back for you. You are not alone.

makumanovember-092I guess I just needed some hope that there was something good waiting for these, the least of our brethren. I suppose I understand better now that my hands are still empty, but at least I can wait with them, I can hope with them, I can be for them, a bit of the hope that is the Kingdom of God on earth. I wait with them, knowing that the poor will be rich, the hungry will be fed, the tears will turn to laughter, and that Jesus is so different from our ideas about him. His heart was always for the broken, for the poor.  We, the ones who have enough, are the ones who still get to eat the crumbs that fall from his table, but the feast is for the poor.  I remember too, those who reminded me that first Advent, in the midst of my brokenness, emptiness and tears, that I was poor but that my sorrow made me rich. I offer that same encouragement to each of us, who wait, who still feel  hungry and longs to be filled.

Oscar Romero:

No one can celebrate

a genuine Christmas

without being truly poor.

The self-sufficient, the proud,

those who, because they have

everything, look down on others,

those who have no need,

even of God- for them

there will be no Christmas.

Only the poor, the hungry,

those who need someone

to come on their behalf,

will have that someone.

That someone is God.

Emmanuel. God-with-us.

Without poverty of spirit,

there can be no abundance of God.