My most memorable experience of waiting happened in the psychiatric ward waiting room of St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York City. Linda had called the night before. Virgil was drinking again. She wanted to know if I would help her get him to the hospital. The doctor would meet us there the following morning. She was not going to tell him where we were going. She was afraid he would put up a fight.
I arrived at seven the next morning. Virgil and Linda were ready to go. Turns out that he wanted to go. He felt safe there.
We sat and we waited. The doctor was running late; the waiting room was crowded; the receptionist was overwhelmed. I sat with Virgil while Linda tried to move things along. As we waited a story unfolded. Virgil, a homeless alcoholic for more years than he could remember, began to tell a story.
The story began when he saw a young doctor in a lab coat walk through the lobby. “I remember when I was in medical school,” he began. He saw the doubt on my face. The doubt was understandable. Sitting beside me was a fragile man with shaggy hair, an unkempt beard and bloodshot eyes. I had heard the story before, how he was once a skilled surgeon in a Philadelphia hospital. Usually he told that one after a couple of bottles of Thunderbird. I looked away, not wanting to hear the doctor story again. He grabbed me by the arm. He was small and frail, and shaking because he had not had a drink since six that morning, but his grip hurt. He looked straight into my eyes and shouted, “You really don’t know who I am, do you?” Startled, I pulled away and went to check with Linda and the receptionist again. She said we would have to wait.
We are waiting, in this season of Advent. We are waiting, like Virgil and I, like Mary when the angel told her she would bear a child, like shepherds startled by angels in the field watching their sheep at night. We are waiting for the coming of the Christ Child. But do we really know for whom we are waiting?
The light that comes into the world in Christ is so fragile, so exquisite that we must get away from the harsh glare of Christmas lights in order to see who is really sitting beside us. So take some time this Advent to sit quietly…and wait…and pray…and listen. Let your eyes adjust to the darkness, so that you may see this gentle, fragile light. In the midst of the bright lights of Christmas, don’t miss the one for whom we wait.