A very long time ago, back when I was young, unwrinkled and still believed that I would live forever, I spent 12 years in the Northern Territory. The ink was barely dry on my teacher’s registration when I was assigned to a place called Port Keats, now known as Wadye. My idealism wilted momentarily when I stepped out of the plane on the Darwin runway and the heat rose up like a wall. It definitely sagged when the sandflies from the appropriately named Sandfly Creek sent out messages that there was fresh Southern blood up at the Mission. But I survived, eventually moving on to the football-famous Bathurst Island, back to Port Keats and later on to Daly River.
Amongst other things, my years in the NT have gifted me an experience of waiting that is very Australian – waiting for the Wet. The dry season lasts about six months, usually between May and October and temperatures are around 20 degrees Celsius. But between the dry and the wet seasons you get the build-up when the humidity is high and the atmosphere is like a hot, steamy sauna. Energy levels drop, prickly heat prickles and tempers become uncertain. Trees preempt the rain as they put out tentative green leaves and magpie geese get ready to fly. Everybody and everything is waiting for the rain. Then, around about Christmas, towering thunderheads of cumulus clouds signal the beginning of relief and the rains are here.
If the Church can be said to have a Waiting Season, then that time is Advent. What are we waiting for? We say that we are waiting for the birth of Christ, but that has already happened. We wait for God’s manifestation in our lives, knowing deep down that God is already in our world. Even as Christmas decorating, shopping and baking take over our imagination we find ourselves waiting for God. It’s just there in us- the instinctive prayer for help, the desires that no relationship or shopping spree can quite fill.
If there could be said to be a voice of Advent, then it’s probably the prophet Isaiah. The closest he could get to explaining his deep knowing that God would come among the people was to speak through the imagery of weather and the land. His writings bubble over with words familiar to anyone who has lived in the Top End. “I will turn the wilderness into a lake and dry ground into springs of water.” Every time I read those words I recall the Aboriginal children waiting for the first rains to fill the creeks. Within days those creeks waterfalled into empty waterholes and the children headed into the bush for their first exuberant swim of the season.
We are not used to thinking scripturally or theologically in Australian imagery and words. But when Isaiah says: “Let the clouds rain down the Just One, and the earth bring forth the Savior”, I can almost see him standing on a Northern Territory verandah, scanning the sky for the first monsoon clouds. Even as his words speak of the Messiah to come they capture the desire that underlies waiting for the rain and the relief it brings to a hot house, dusty leaves and drooping plants.
Like the Chosen People, we wait in hope for God to come into our lives and fulfill our deepest desires. Maybe this Advent we could carry Isaiah’s Top End image with us: “Lord, turn the dry and stagnant places of my life into a lake brimming with the freshness of bird life and fish. Amen”