Watching & Waiting by Walter Wangerin and John Nunes

Nicholas Markell Beuronese Nativity icon

A series of letters between friends, Walter Wangerin and John Nunes, contemplating the season of Advent.


Dear John,

Throughout my life it has been my good fortune to experience the story of Jesus with every turning of every year, beginning with the “Waiting Season,” Advent.

The story has been more than merely told to me.  It has surrounded me like a weather.  It has comprehended me as a house does its inhabitants, or a mother does her child.  Even so has the life of Christ shaped mine.  My very being has been molded in him.

My response to Jesus’ story has been more than an act of mind, more than to study it.  I am invited to enter in.  Therefore, my response has been to accept, and so to experience Christ personally.  The Gospel story interprets for me the world’s story.

In every sense of the phrase, I find myself in Jesus.  He is mine and I am his and the banner over us is love.

The Church Past has bequeathed to the Church Present a grand drama which takes six months to enact, December into May.  No audience.  All are actors.  And this play contains and communicates the truth, for its protagonist is the Lord Jesus, who proclaims himself to be the Truth.

People, prepare!  Make ready to meet the hero.  Break into song.  Sing, “Wake, awake, for night is flying.

Your Friend,



Dear Walt,

“Wake, awake, for night is flying,” you sing. As a small sign in reply I offer this large, living, life-encompassing line. That line which comes right after the line with which you ended your letter: “the watchmen on the heights are crying.” Yes, Walt, there is an on-goingness, a continuing character to Christ’s narrative. Advent is when we wait for it, and we watch for it, too. We wait on tiptoe, watching in expectation for the drama of a birth we know so well we can repeat it from biblical memory. Yet, we are stirred up by the Spirit to watch.

We watch. And every year ancient truth moves toward us as if for the first time. A path is made straight. Clutter is cleared away. With refreshing everydayness, the prophet calls his own fingers unworthy to lace up the dusty sandals of the one coming after him. This unsophisticated, grasshopper-eating, camel-cloth-wearing, axe-lowering field preacher is somewhat edgier than most pastors we’ve met. But we can’t unstick our gaze from his furious hope. As his wild voice throttles out God’s Word, our old dreams are animated again, those very ones that choked on life’s stress and suffocated before we knew they were gone. We watch with Advent penitence and see ourselves living more simply, more focused on Jesus.

Most peculiar, however, as we watch we sense other eyes on us—as if from the periphery, eyes of mercy see us, grace beholds us, forgiveness finds us. We watchers are ourselves being watched by a Father, who in love sends the Son, whom with the Spirit is worshiped and adored.  



Nativity IconDear John,

We are the watchers and the holy ones!  There are five acts to the Drama of Christ’s life.  Advent when we wait for the appearance of the Hero; Christmas and His appearing; Epiphany, action, who he is and what he’d doing; Lent, when the Hero battles on our behalf; and Easter:  it is done!  The Hero has won!

But now, Advent.  Old promises remembered; new promises made.  Excitement burns the hearts of the audience, daily blazing higher and brighter.

Listen to the overture.  Listen to that cry, “One more powerful than I is coming!”  Listen to the songs.  “My soul magnifies the Lord!”  And, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel!”

Hold your breath.  Stand on tiptoe.  Wait, ye holy ones.  And watch.

Waiting & Watching,





It goes without saying that people rarely get the chance to choose the day of their death. If I did, however, I’d choose to go on a Sunday evening, during the fourth quarter of a football game, smiling as the Buffalo Bills are winning handily, in early Advent. Besides other advantages, my home-going event would then be more convenient for everyone; I’d get into the ground, before the freeze made digging difficult, leaving plenty of time to redirect attention toward rehearsals for the Christmas pageant packed with hope to address any potential grief. Could there be a better time to die than in a season of spiritual rebirth looking towards Jesus’ birth?

The worshipers would sing sturdy songs, royal blue hymns, none as raucous or as popular as the carols, but rooted in an alien sound, profound and true, bursting with layers of good news. The prayers would be daring and effulgent, shining with Advent courage: “Stir up your power and come,” a curse-reversing promise; our gaze fixed on tomorrow’s deliverance, with justice for more than just us or our kind or our crowd; with peace thriving, where strife had formerly dwelt; appearing on the scene, it’s indescribable entrance would make both toddlers and great-grandpas begin to dance.

Yes, in that worship there’d be dancing—not only for a certain team’s certain playoffs—but we kick our heels up to the tune of our certain future in Jesus, to the tune, as you say Walt, of “old promises remembered and new promises made.” We finally exhale.




Rev. Walter Wangerin and Rev. Dr. John Nunes will serve together as lecturers at Camp Arcadia for Family Week 4: July 16 – 23, 2016.


3 Responses

  1. Thank you for once again blessing my Advent by your seeing Advent and other events of the church year with fresh eyes of faith.

  2. Thank you for once again blessing my Advent by your seeing Advent and other events of the church year with fresh eyes of faith.

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