Waiting was agony this summer. The days in Veracruz were sweltering hot. Some mornings when we arrived early at the shelter there were only two or three migrants around. We sat and cleaned beans or rice for hours as I drifted into a heat-induced stupor.
But our ears were always perked for the sound of the train because we didn’t know quite when it would come. We would hop up from our work to look out the front gate only to realize that the train we heard was coming from the North. Then, suddenly, the train from the South would arrive, carrying a hundred Central American migrants who jumped off and streamed toward our shelter. Immediately, we sprung into action, heating up the food we had prepared, counting out cups and bowls and preparing drinks. The next few hours would be a flurry of activity as we served food and registered migrants to enter and shower or nap.
Then their waiting began. After a few hours in the shelter they would go back to the train tracks to wait for the afternoon or evening freight train to take them north.
This waiting is an interesting illustration of how we await the kingdom of God. We are attentive and live with a certain edginess, hopping up and looking out the gate in hopes of His arrival.
Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, which means that soon the edgy waiting of Advent will give way to the celebration of the Christmas season. But as much as we celebrate Christ’s incarnation at Christmas, we are still in a state of waiting. The Kingdom of God has not yet fully come.
So we wait. We clean rice and beans, knowing that our work is necessary and will bear fruit even though in the moment it seems tedious and meaningless. We perk our ears with attentiveness, knowing that we are responding to the needs of the moment but also working in preparation for God to bring all creation to completion. We wait by the tracks, wanting to be present to where God is coming. We jump up when we hear indications of God’s presence and saving grace.
The parallels are striking, but it is important to note the differences. When I worked in the shelter, we waited to give them a moment of peace in their journey. Yet the people we awaited brought stories of great trials and pain, which were problems we could not fully address. Similarly, Central Americans wait by the tracks for a train that brings them hope of prosperity but also great suffering. That is why the train is called “la Bestia.” The beast. It will devour the unprepared passenger.
As we wait, our ultimate hope is much less ambiguous. We don’t await suffering. We await perfection that comes from God. As today’s reading from Micah 5 states, Christ “shall be peace.” One day, “the wolf shall be the guest of the lamb” (Isaiah 11:6). That is what we await. While we work actively to prepare and anticipate, we also wait with confidence in our powerful and loving God.