The Discipline of Waiting in Worship

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Woman holding alarm clock

Emily Vermilya

Is it just me, or does Christmas seem to come earlier every year in the retail world? This year, I spotted the first Christmas store display in July. IN JULY?! Independence Day decorations hadn’t even been cleared from the shelves, but there stood Santa and mistletoe, beckoning Christmas-lovers who simply could not wait.

It’s a common problem, isn’t it? Our inability to wait for things is often a hindrance. Our society is centered on efficiency and, for most people, our greatest currency is no longer the almighty dollar, but rather our time. Think about it: we drive through the fast food line, we interact with the ATM rather than the bank teller in the hopes of expediting the transaction. We have immediate access to our family, friends, and co-workers through texting and email. We know what we need or want and we’re conditioned to believe that having it sooner, rather than later, is best.

The question becomes, how does this affect our worship? Specifically, how does our impatience and unfamiliarity with the practice of waiting affect our ability to embrace and participate in worship during the season of Advent?

Waiting has been a part of our faith from the very beginning. In Exodus, we read of Israel’s waiting for deliverance from Pharaoh, followed by their awaited entrance to the Promised Land. Even upon their arrival there, the waiting persisted as the Hebrews continued to long for their promised Messiah. So when Jesus arrives on the scene, you’d think the waiting would end, right? Not so. As Jesus ascends to the Father, he tells his followers that he will return and encourages them to remain faithful to the work he began on earth until that time (John 21:22 & Acts 1:11). In other words, “wait.”

Advent is a season where we are challenged to specifically focus on waiting. We remember Israel awaiting the Messiah’s first coming to earth, while we also anticipate Christ’s promised return. It is the perfect season to help our congregations engage in the discipline of waiting—of being patient people who trust in the methods and timing of our sovereign God. But the church is so often influenced by the surrounding culture. We love the nostalgia and good will celebrated in the Christmas season, so we are tempted to by-pass Advent’s focus of waiting and jump right into the celebration of Christmas.

The Christian year is a beautiful tool for helping worship become formational in the lives of believers. This Advent, consider how you might help your congregation engage in the discipline of waiting. Here are a few suggested practices to consider employing in your services in the hope that the celebration of Christmas might be all the richer because time has been spent awaiting and intentionally anticipating Christ:

  • Employ silence in worship: invite your congregation to sit in stillness prior to the service each week, directing their meditation toward the ultimate longings of their hearts that can only be met in Christ or simply purging themselves of distractions that could interfere with their ability to engage with God during worship.
  • Use a variety of Scripture in worship: specifically, if you aren’t a lectionary based church, use texts that help focus the worshipper’s thoughts on the history of waiting that has been foundational to the Christian faith and which will encourage worshippers to grow in their patience.
  • Seek to sing true Advent songs: this can be so difficult! Even though radio stations begin 24-hour Christmas music marathons the day after Thanksgiving (if not before!), remember that we are sometimes more attuned to the message of this beloved music when we employ some level of restraint! Utilize the wonderful Advent texts and tunes that have been written over the centuries within the church, or even consider writing Advent songs of your own that can be sung corporately, helping your congregation practice the discipline of waiting with the Advent season.

What other Advent practices do you employ in worship to help your congregants engage in the season of waiting?

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Emily Vermilya is the Executive Pastor at College Wesleyan Church in Marion, Indiana. Having previously served as a Worship Pastor in multiple churches, one of Emily’s passions is empowering and inspiring other worship leaders to lead worship that is biblically, historically, and theologically rooted in the Story of God. Emily also serves as an Adjunct Professor of Worship at Indiana Wesleyan University and as a Regular Faculty member at the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies. Emily resides in Marion, with her husband Jim and her children, Silas and Aynsley.

1 COMMENT

  1. Thanks for the thoughtful post, Megan. It’s good to hear what is mtavioting people to read.I find it interesting that our motivations are almost exactly opposite. The motivation you describe could be labeled primitivist’, i.e., we need to get back to the earliest, purest church. That’s a long tradition, older even than the Reformation. T. D. Bozeman captured the idea beautifully in the title of a book: to live ancient lives’.But for my own part, I am much less skeptical that the history of the church has been an accumulation of errors. Rather, I think we should expect the church to be growing over time in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, and that believers are better off today precisely because they have a long and honorable tradition. In other words, it seems to me that the best way to be faithful to the church of the apostles is to be faithful to the church of the apostolic fathers, and of the ante-Nicene fathers, and the Nicene fathers, and the post-Nicene fathers, and so on all the way down to the present.Our difference just goes to show how much diversity there can be while still finding a shared interest in the fathers of the church. Doubtless, both of our views will be challenged and modified by the actual encounter with the texts.

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