Here’s a little piece I wrote for our school newsletter:
Waiting. I’m not very good at it. Waiting for the bus, waiting in traffic, waiting for the salesman to test and package the item I’m trying to buy. I don’t like to wait. I come from America, where time is very important, and when I’m waiting, I can almost feel the seconds being stolen from me. In fact, I have a friend named Darrell, who absolutely refuses to wait. He says that he waited in so many lines when he was in the army that he won’t stand in any line again . . . ever. Any place that requires you to stand in line, he stays away from it.
But waiting is what the Advent season is all about. We love to focus on the story of Christmas Day, with the Christ child and the shepherds and the angels. But we often forget about the waiting. You see, hundreds of years had passed since God promised in the Garden of Eden that he would send One who would crush Satan under his heel. And all that time, Israel (and the rest of humankind) had been waiting. For ninety years, Sarah waited for the child she was almost sure would never come. For forty years in the desert, Moses waited to see if God could do anything with a man who had thrown his future away. For another forty years, Israel wandered in the wilderness, waiting to see if God would really bring them into the land he had promised. And for a thousand years, Israel continued to wait as prophet after prophet foretold the coming of a Messiah. I’m sure that many echoed the psalmists and the prophets who moaned, “How long, O Lord? How long?”
Until finally, “in the fullness of time,” the Scriptures tell us, there was just one more wait. An unmarried teenager named Mary was waiting nine months to see what God would look like as a baby. Of course, the waiting ended in a way that nobody expected. Everyone was waiting for a king; few noticed the baby born in a manger. Everyone was waiting for the warrior who would overthrow the Roman Empire; it was easy to overlook the humble Jesus.
But a few did notice. I think especially of Simeon in the temple. “He was waiting for the consolation of Israel,” Luke tells us. God had shown Simeon that he wouldn’t die until he had seen the Messiah. When he looked at Jesus, only eight days old, Simeon knew that God’s promise had been fulfilled—the wait was over.
Or was it? After Jesus had been on earth for 33 years, his disciples were ready to crown him king. He had been crucified, resurrected—surely, the time had come. The disciples asked, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus’ response: “Wait! Stay in Jerusalem until you receive the Holy Spirit.” And then he returned to his Father, leaving the disciples waiting for the Comforter.
No, the wait was far from over; in fact, it was only beginning. We are still waiting. We are waiting for Christmas. Like little children, we look forward to celebrating that most amazing miracle—God putting on human flesh, lying down in the animals’ food trough, and beginning the awesome task of redeeming the world.
But we also wait for the return of Jesus in glory. When he came the first time, Jesus ushered in the kingdom of God, but “this present evil age” did not end. So, we live in an “in-between” period. We are members of the kingdom but we’re surrounded by a world that is an enemy to that kingdom. We wait for God to come and set things right. The eighth chapter of Romans reminds us that even “creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.” And we also “groan inwardly as we wait for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” Even the last chapter of the Bible reminds us of Jesus’ words, “Yes, I am coming soon.” And with John, we say, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”
Jesus could come back today; he could have come back a thousand years ago. Why does he keep us waiting? First, waiting teaches us to patiently trust God. Peter reminds us that God is not slow in keeping his promises; he is patient with us, not wanting anyone to perish. Can we trust God that his timing is better than ours? Can we remember that while we only see what is right in front of us, he sees the whole parade? Can we be patient enough to wait for God’s calling, to wait for God’s choice of partners for us, to wait for God’s provision for our needs?
Waiting also teaches us both confidence and humility. It helps us to remember how small we are; we cannot make time move by one second faster. We have no power over history’s timetable. But waiting also reminds us of how big our God is. Remembering that God is in charge of this world’s “game clock” gives us a positive outlook on life and an eager anticipation of the future he has planned for us.
Finally, waiting teaches us to hear God’s voice. When we are trying to control the circumstances of our lives, we get so easily distracted by the size of the task, by the advice of others, by the worry that we will not be able to accomplish our goals. But when we are forced to wait, we begin to get quiet before God. And once we are quiet, he can speak to us and know that we will hear his voice.
In this holiday season, we can get overwhelmed by busyness, and that can make us cynical, or worried, or even apathetic about the whole story. Or we can wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ. When we maintain that joyful attitude, welcoming Jesus into our hearts and our homes, it keeps us ready for Christmas; it keeps us ready for Christ’s return.