A Google search for instant gratification produces “About 2,920,000 results in 0.59 seconds”. I know it’s true, because Google told me!
For all the advantages brought about by our modern technology (coupled with Google) – so much information in the blink of an eye, there are an equal number of disadvantages – so much information in the blink of an eye. Thanks to Google, we have become used to having our every musing answered faster than we can type (or say) it – yes, Google will even auto-fill your search query based on the first few letters you type.
In North America we have become a society of instant gratification – we will wait for nothing or no one.
Case in point: every time I return a piece of evaluated work in class (homework, test or project), a handful of students will begin asking, “What’s my mark?” They need to know instantly where they stand every step of the way. (Frankly, if they took the time to do the quick math and compare it to the other marks they have received, they should have a pretty good idea of where their mark is at).
This need for instant gratification goes beyond immediate recognition of our personal performance. In a consumer society where most are blessed with access to instant credit and an overabundance of material goods, we have become accustomed to catering our every whim as it occurs to us… I’m thirsty; I grab a soft drink from a vending machine… Hunger is sated with chips or chocolate from the machine right beside… I need new shoes/clothing/car/you-name-it – I head to the mall and pull out the credit card without a second thought (or even easier, shop online and get overnight delivery).
But the Catholic Church is different. In this holy season of Advent, the Church tells us we need to wait.
And that’s hard!
Advent teaches us how to wait.
Through the four weeks of Advent we repeat the mantra – We wait in joyful hope for the coming of Christ. Christmas is coming, but it’s not here yet. We’re itching to celebrate, but we can’t just yet – we need to wait.
Any parent who has been brave (or foolish) enough to take a child shopping in December knows the pain of being harassed the whole time for every toy and trinket the child sees. As much as it strains our nerves (and sometimes we crack), the in-store response is almost always, “Just wait, Christmas is coming.” after which we try to turn a deaf ear to the child’s pleas. The forced waiting doesn’t end there, once the gifts are bought and wrapped, they sit under the tree taunting tortured children who are reminded they need to wait until Christmas morning to unwrap them.
It doesn’t get much better as an adult. The temptation to buy something for oneself is great, but we know we need to wait. The harder waiting comes Christmas day, as we smell the turkey roasting, we want to dive in, even before it’s cooked through and carved.
Yet, as we all know… Good things come to those who wait!
So through December we wait… We wait to see if anyone noticed the sweater we really wanted… We wait to see the joy-filled faces of children as they rip open gifts on Christmas morning… We wait to sink our teeth into the crispy skin of a turkey drumstick… All very good things worth waiting for.
Yet as good as all the festive trappings of Christmas are… we sometimes lose sight of something still greater worth waiting for in Advent – the coming of our Saviour.
This said, much like all the good things at Christmas, we want the instant gratification of Christ coming now too. We want to enter the joy and peace of heaven now, skipping the toil and anxiety of life here on earth. We want all of the goodness that Jesus offers us without putting in the time and effort He asks us to. We want the 896,000,000 results in 0.67 seconds for Jesus (thanks Google).
Unlike the department stores that jump into full-out Christmas mode the moment the last piece of Hallowe’en candy is handed out, the Catholic Church doesn’t dive headfirst into Christmas. Instead, we take four weeks to get ready, to prepare and to wait.
This waiting can take many forms… In our home we wait for Advent to begin before putting up our tree. Many families have the tradition of waiting until after midnight Mass before placing the baby Jesus in the manger of their Nativity scene. Some will prayerfully recall the world waiting for the Light of Christ, the light of the Advent Wreath piercing their darkened home. We know something fantastic is coming, and the waiting helps build our anticipation, which will burst with joy at Christmas.
As much as it kills us, all of this waiting (for gifts and turkey and visits with friends & family) is good for us. Like the good father that He is, God knows what’s best for His children, so He asks us to wait for His Son. This forced waiting of Advent helps us grow patience; patience that is badly needed by the child wanting a toy, an adolescent needing to know their mark, an adult who can’t wait even half-a-second for a Google search.
We live in a world of instant gratification; a world where folks can cater to their every whim. We live in a time when people are self-sufficient, meeting their own every need, where cash is king and others are expected to jump on command. We live in a world where people don’t like to wait, not even for God.
But we are an Advent People – so we wait.