Advent is a time of waiting. Yet modern society does not wait for anything. 'I want it now; I want Christmas today, not in four weeks' time.' In Advent, though, we identify with the longing of the people of Israel. We long for the coming of the Saviour who will set us free. And we wait.
There is a tendency to reduce the spiritual life to a self-improvement programme. The argument goes something like this: if I use Advent constructively then I may persuade God to take notice of me. I pray for the Lord to come and fix my broken life. God is reluctant to reveal himself to me. The purpose of my prayer is to cajole God into noticing, to answer my needs. It's as if I have to change God's mind about me.
Yet God is so much nicer than the God I was taught about as a child. Where does that negative caricature of God come from? I do not find it in the Bible. The God who reveals himself to me through his Son Jesus is the opposite of who I imagine God to be. It is easier to glibly say 'God loves me' than to say 'God respects me'. Yet he does. He honours my choices and adjusts his own plans to accommodate them.
When I make mistakes God turns them to my advantage. In God's economy what is destructive becomes life-giving. That is at the heart of the Christian mystery. God is not interested in my sins; God is only interested in me. It is I who am obsessed by my sins and it is I who allow them to become a barrier of shame between God and me.
God is actually appreciative of the infinitesimally small steps I take to further his kingdom. God is able to pick out the positives of what I manage to accomplish from so many cul-de-sacs and failures. I may believe I am waiting for the coming of the Lord in Advent. In truth it is God waiting for me.