God gives patience, Love learns strength,Elizabeth Barrett Browning
And Faith remembers promise,
And Hope itself can smile at length
On other hopes gone from us.
None of us like to hear the word wait. Waiting well is not something we acquire naturally. Particularly in our two-day shipping, microwave culture. We don’t wait on seasons for produce–it’s available year round. We don’t wait to even turn a page for information, or try to recall it from our memory, we simply consult our handheld computers. We don’t wait on letters, or dinner. Everything feels immediate.
I am certainly thankful I can talk to far-away family instantly, or eat an out of season orange, but I do find my expectations shaped by this impatient age. If the internet slows I am irate. If a drive-thru takes ten minutes I am irritable. If the car in front of me doesn’t immediately go at a green light I honk my horn. If I have to take two extra minutes to get out the door so my toddler can wrestle her own shoes on, I feel the need to do it for her. If a recipe calls for two hours of simmering I for-go it for a quicker one. This immediate age makes me feel as though all things should be immediate. I easily lose sight of the virtue of waiting.
This is why I love Advent. Advent breaks into my impatience and demands slow consideration. Advent reminds me how necessary it is to cultivate patient, faithful waiting.
After all, Advent is all about waiting.
Advent recalls centuries of waiting. Lifetimes committed to waiting in hope for something unseen until after death.
In Advent we witness those who waited on God, who trusted his promises because they trusted him.
We recall those who were kicked out of the garden of perfection, who saw their sin manifested again in the bloodshed between their sons. They waited for the snake crusher who would take us back to the garden.
We recall bloody animal sacrifices, those who raised up innocent lambs in shame over and over again to make right their sin, never fully covered, waiting for the Lamb himself who would, with finality, take away their sin. the last bloody sacrifice.
We recall a reluctant leader, dying within reach of the Promised Land, trusting in the God whose glory he saw, waiting for the better Leader who leads us to an eternal land.
We imagine God’s silence for 400 years, no prophets giving comfort to the hopeless, no word from God. Waiting for a Messiah. Waiting for the Word himself.
We spend December imagining the first Advent, what it would have been like to wait on God. Those who trusted the promises of God for a son in barrenness, for salvation while in slavery, for a fertile land while walking in the desert, for forgiveness while their hands were covered in blood, for hope while groaning under the weight of hopelessness. For God himself while living in separation from him. We re-read the true tale of a people longing for their Savior while being pressed down under the weight of their own sin and the sins of a world lost in chaotic darkness and then…then we see hope realized in a tiny newborn baby. You can feel:
A thrill of hope
A weary world rejoices
We see there, in that dirty manger scene,
The Slaughtered Lamb
The promised Son
We watch as God does exactly as he said he would, and we feel a thrill of a hope, our weary hearts rejoice, because just as he fulfilled all those promises once, we know he will do it again. We recall the first Advent and its realization in the infant king who grew to die and who rose triumphant over the grave and sin, so that we can live rightly in this second Advent as we wait for his promised return. We wait for the return of our King.
But waiting well is no easy thing.
We wait for improved political conditions and a better economy. We wait for promotion in our employment. We wait for work. But in all these things we wait anxiously. For who knows if what we are waiting for will ever come? Such waiting is not Advent waiting.Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Advent waiting is different then all other waiting because what we wait for is sure and certain, proven by the realization of the first Advent. We don’t wait in uncertainty, our waiting rests in the knowledge that centuries of waiting was fulfilled once by our God, and so we can trust that he will bring it to pass again.
Advent helps us remember the God who keeps his promises, who breaks into a world of darkness and uncertainty with unflinching light and certain hope.
Advent helps us face our doubts and apathy, our weariness and ache, and reminds us in whom we put our trust. Remembering his character gives us the strength to wait in faith. We can look at our lives honestly, admit our longings, our unrealized wishes, our disappointments and losses, our failures and shame, and we remember that hope comes in the midst of this, Christ himself comes in the midst of this. We can continue in our fight against sin, we can worship him even in the midst of our deepest grief, we can trust him even in death and illness, we can live each day committed to dying to ourselves, holding our earthly treasure loosely with the hope of something better to come, because he is coming, as sure as the sun will rise.
We need only wait.