There really is no better time than Advent to talk about the mystery of waiting. Under the best of circumstances, the delayed gratification of waiting is not something we embrace easily. The culture we have built bullies us into thinking that unless we have the next trinket, the next job, the next vacation, the next relationship, right away, our lives are somehow incomplete. What compounds the situation is the fact that we have effectively done away with waiting through “no monthly payments, no interest for a year” or “buy now, pay later” or “sleep with me now and I’ll still love you” or “let’s order pizza since there’s no time to make dinner.” And on and on it goes.
It is said that waiting is a virtue. We’re just too anxiety ridden to be very good at it! The Bible is chock full of stories of those who waited. Noah and his family spent weeks inside a cramped handmade dumpster with some rather smelly roommates for months on end until it was safe to come out.
Abraham and Sarah, elderly by any standards (and not without a number of impatient glitches along the way), waited almost a century to receive God’s promise of progeny.
Joseph, a little arrogant to begin with, lands himself in a boatload of vengeance at the hands of jealous brothers and, later, had 14 years in a Pharaoh’s prison to do business with God.
Moses, impetuous and entitled, took matters in his own hands, killing an Egyptian, and then spent 40 years shoveling sheep s**t on the backside of Mt. Sinai.
David, God’s man for Israel, was anointed King but spent years running from Saul and his upstarts before ever enjoying hat head from a crown.
An embattled, beleaguered, divided and dispersed nation of Israel had waited for centuries to hear a prophetic voice of hope; someone to assure them that God hadn’t forsaken them. And then…a devout priest, Zechariah and his barren wife, Elizabeth, get a most unexpected message, not by UPS camel, but by an angel that they were to become parents.
They had waited.
With the birth of their son, John, who came to be called “the Baptizer”, all of the previous waiting and watching and expectations were slowly finding resolution.
We as a thirsty people wait, too. The point, however, is not that we wait, but how we wait. It should be a coveted spiritual discipline to wait well. To live with ambiguity and still be faithful; to ponder paradoxes of our lives together and still lead each other to Christ; to sojourn in those desert places where we can’t always determine the way forward and still be grateful; to be stretched by unknown outcomes to baffling problems and still be present to each other; to fight the spiritual battles we didn’t ask for and rise again, bruised but better – this is the Way of Jesus.
I pray that in all my waiting, I do so actively. An active waiting helps us not just to “bide the time” but to engage one another at our places of deepest need. We must not wait like the newly released prisoners of Pharaoh whose impatience for Moses’ return from Mt. Sinai drew them into idolatry and destructive behaviors. Let us wait, instead, as John the Baptizer bids us wait – actively – bearing fruits of repentance. Like John before us, who enjoined his listeners to “prepare the way, making straight paths” for the Messiah who would soon follow, we must not give up hope in waiting. Even more importantly, let us remember that we do not merely wait for Jesus. We wait for one another; human and fallible people with imperfections, mixed motives, families to care for and a need for community. Let us all wait actively, without pretense or rivalries or bitter hearts, until God comes to us. Then will we see that waiting makes the most sense.
What stops you from waiting actively? What makes it hard?
How have you had to live with waiting recently? What has it formed in you?
Robert Rife is the music director at Yakima Covenant Church (http://yakimacovenant.org/), a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, poet and writer. He is a recent graduate from Spring Arbor University with an M.A. in Spiritual Formation and Leadership and blogs at innerwoven.me.