Advent is about waiting.
Whenever I see this tree in my neighborhood, I think it's reaching-down branch is just waiting for a swing and a child and bubbly laughter.
I can't quite explain it, but somehow waiting and hope and joy are linked like a branch to a rope to a swing.
We wait in hope for the Lord;
he is our help and our shield.
In him our hearts rejoice,
for we trust in his holy name.
May your unfailing love be with us,
even as we put our hope in you.
What are we waiting for? Do we really know?
When I read through my Bible, I see waiting pressed into the pages and the people:
*Noah waited for the flood and then for the waters to recede
*Abraham & Sarah waited for a promised son (kinda)
*Joseph waited in prison to be rescued
*Moses waited in the wilderness to be ready
*Hannah waited for a child
*Elijah waited for rain
*Nehemiah waited to rebuild the wall
*David waited to become king
*The people waited for Zechariah
*Hosea waited for Gomer to be faithful
*Jesus waited to live and tell the gospel story
*Simeon waited for the hope of Israel
*Anna waited for her country's redemption
*Joseph of Arimathea waited for the kingdom of God
*The woman at the well was waiting for Messiah
*The disciples waited for the Holy Spirit
Of course, life is being lived while we wait.
Mr. Holland of the movie Mr. Holland's Opus is a fine story of what can happen while we wait to realize a dream. There are blessings in the waiting, so we don't want to gut it out only to miss another dream, that of a whole and beautiful life.
It matters how we wait. If you wait like I did the other day at a railroad crossing, it isn't pretty. This was the kind of train crossing where the empty train goes slowly past. Stops. Backs up. Sits a while. Chugs again. And repeats the whole rigamarole. It seemed like a senseless thirty minutes. Many, many cars turned around and looked for another way.
Let's just admit it. Waiting is hard. It can break your heart and make you abandon your dreams. Waiting embraces the small right in front of you while taking the long view.
I do better when I lean into the waiting, take a book, work a project, chat with someone, people watch or pray. It does no good to cheat the waiting, though plenty of people try. Kyle and I were at the DMV the other day to replace his driver's license. We had pulled our dated and numbered ticket from the computer generated dispenser, gone next door to the grocery store for a few things and returned. Still plenty of time before our number flashed on the digital counter. The woman at the counter called the next number and two people approached the counter. All heads swiveled to watch the drama. We all know no one likes to wait. She looked at both tickets. She looked at both customers. One of the ticket holders had presented a ticket from the day before. She was sent back to get a new number. She went home instead fighting mad.
If only I could wait with this perspective from scripture:
*Wait in peace
*Wait in eager expectation
*Wait with courage, God will strengthen your heart
*Wait with painful longing
*Wait and watch in hope
*Wait like a farmer waits for rain
*Wait more than those who watch for the morning
*Wait without seeing the results you hope for
*Wait with hope against hope
What I was really waiting for at the railroad tracks was to get home. That helps some, to know what I am truly waiting for. But I also need to remember that stuff happens while I wait. It could be boiling anger and frustration like at the train or the DMV or it could be better things, deeper things like patience, peace, truth, courage, strength, hope, perseverance and praise. Waiting on the small stuff might be practice for the bigger stuff. Then again, the small stuff just might be the big stuff. Mr. Holland's students would say so.
There are things we can do while we wait that enhance the waiting. These are things that waiting is custom-made for:
*Practice justice and mercy
*Visit God's sanctuary
*Listen and learn
*Find peace with God
*Bless God and community
*Serve others with your gifts
*Hold someone's pain and grief
*Share God's wonders
Try one of these and get a glimpse of what God might be up to in the course of a thousand-year day. About the only thing I can see that we should not wait for is forgiving and being baptized.
Have you ever thought we aren't the only ones waiting? All of creation is waiting too; animals, forests, rivers, oceans, sun, moon and star-flecked sky.
For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God.
For the creation was subjected to futility,
but because of Him who subjected it in hope;
because the creation itself also will be
delivered from the bondage of corruption
into the glorious liberty
of the children of God.
For we know that the whole creation
groans and labors with birth pangs
together until now.
Can't you feel it? The creaking and shifting of her bones in heat, drought, famine, tsunami, hurricane, flash flooding and sea wall breach.
We're waiting on God, yes, but not alone; along with the created world. And even the God of the universe waits. I have to stop right there and take that in.
The God of the universe waits. For you and me.
It humbles me to realize that God's way is to place Himself in the mix with us, in the dirt of our planet, in our pain. Emmanuel. He is holy and other and above. Still he waits with us and for us. Emmanuel. He was right there alongside Noah building an ark and longing to be gracious. He was enslaved in Egypt making bricks, waiting to be free and in the wilderness waiting for the Promised Land right alongside Moses and the people. Remember the pillar and the cloud?
God holds his peace a long time. And He is up to good while He waits for us. Don't let any one tell you He isn't. He is always offering mercy, love and truth during the waiting time. Just ask Gomer. Read Hosea's story and see how God has set his heart upon us, woos us, forgives us. Again. Again. And again.
Therefore the Lord will wait,
that He may be gracious to you;
And therefore He will be exalted,
that He may have mercy on you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
Blessed are all those who wait for Him.
So this Advent season remember God is up to something in all the waiting, something good. And perfect timing is found in God's hand. In God's hand a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day. Lean into waiting and see what you can bring or who you can become. Don't cheat the waiting, lean into God and feel His heartbeat.