Advent is marked by tension : tension between uncertainty and hope, fear and longing, the now and the not yet of God's promises. It is a time of penitential preparation for the birth of Christ. It is a dangerous time for the faithful because it calls us to examine the end and the beginning of our faith.
Fittingly the lectionary passages for the season are as much about judgment as about reassurance. Christmas may inevitably bring sentimental soft-focus scenes of mother and infant, but the scriptures for Advent make clear that such a scene is merely the eye of a hurricane. It is a mistake to think that just because God comes as a helpless child the effects of the incarnation will be small and manageable, contained. During Advent, the words of the prophets : from Isaiah to John the Baptist : are foretelling change, potentially cataclysmic, at all levels: personal, political, cosmic. Why do we think that God-being-with-us will make the ride less wild?
In Christ we are not connected to international economic conditions when our stocks fall. In Christ we are connected when in the power of the Spirit (it takes nothing else!) we do not turn away from human suffering in helplessness or cynicism.
The power in the universe became a babe in arms, not to teach us about the sweetness of love (although that too is real) but to teach us about its vulnerability and tangible expression and practical demands; and to teach us that on such as this, kingdoms are built. In a child, any child, the wealth and righteousness of a society, a nation, a world can be read. This isn't fuzzy sentimentality. This is the law of the universe and the word of the prophets.
What are we waiting for? For the One who has come and comes again, the Child who leads us. For the living paradox of incarnation: That in Christ, hearts opened up to suffering are also opened up to joy. That in Christ, we draw closer to God not by removing ourselves from the world, but through deeper immersion in it.