Waiting. We do a lot of waiting at this time of year. We queue up to buy gifts—and to mail them. We wait for Amazon orders to arrive in the post. We wait in airports, traffic, and coffee shops. We wait for Christmas break to wrest us from our studies, our work, our loneliness. Sometimes we wait at a tremendous pace, as if filling our days with work or parties or consumer pursuits will make time gain speed.
Waiting...Israel was waiting for a Messiah in the days of Caesar Augustus. Waiting for a Deliverer, like in Egypt long ago. Israel was waiting for freedom. In those same days, a woman named Elisabeth was waiting to deliver her first child, though she was old and infertile. A young, unmarried girl was also waiting quietly and patiently. She was awaiting the promise given to her by an angel of God. Waiting to see what her belovéd would do when she told him she was pregnant. A virgin giving birth to a child, it sounded like a silly sham, a cover up for fornication. Yet the prophecy was there in Isaiah, "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name [Emmanuel]."1 There they were—Elisabeth, Mary, and all of Israel—waiting.
Nine months of waiting brought forth John. The same length of gestation wrought the King of all creation into a creature Himself. Then came the patient, silent years of growing—like a seed underground, waiting to break into the sunlight. After thirty years of quiet growth, John paved the way for his kinsman, Jesus, and for three years all of Israel waited to see what would become of Mary's son. You know the rest, He was killed and His disciples waited three days in fear of the Romans, in fear of the Jews, in fear that all their hopes had been placed in the wrong man. But their hope was fulfilled. The anticipation was exceeded. The waiting dawned in resurrection.
Awaiting the arrival of the Messiah is what the season of Advent is all about. We have stepped into that waiting period. The fasting before the feasting. The season of darkness is upon us, like it was upon Israel.
In preparation for celebrating the arrival of the Messiah, I began to think about the advent seasons we go through in life at times. Sometimes they are long, unyielding periods. The darkness is thick, we see no light of hope at the end of the tunnel. The Messiah seems far away. We cry out, "How long, O Lord? How long?" with seemingly no answer. Israel sat in crushing darkness, hope draining out of her that the long awaited Messiah would ever come. Nearly all Israel had no inkling that the dark night of their fallen existence—and the agony of waiting—was about to end in dawn. Often we do not sense that the approach—the Advent—of God is near at hand, either. But the truth is that:
"Because of God’s tender mercy,the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us,to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,and to guide us to the path of peace."2
The light at the end of the tunnel may not come in the form we would like, or hope for, or expect. Jesus did not come as a mighty warrior, He entered Israel as a fragile baby. He did not enter Jerusalem in triumph, riding a white charger, He rode in on a humble donkey colt. So, too, our hope may be realised in ways we didn't foresee: in an encouraging friend walking alongside us through the daily grind; in having a good job—when we didn't expect we would have to be the sole provider for our family; in the welcoming embrace of our parents—rather than a lover; in strength for this day, when we thought we were depleted yesterday. Hope is sometimes realised in a change of heart, change of mind, change of plans that looks like a faithful friend. The dawn comes in shades of colour we never anticipated, sometimes after we have given up looking for the light. The daystar rises at the right time—even when it seems late—because of God's tender mercy, because of His kindness.
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God... In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend [understand or overcome] it."3
Whether you are waiting in line or waiting for something in your life to change, let the longing to be finished with waiting remind you that you are being cultivated. Like a seed underground, like John the Baptist and Jesus in the decades before their life's work began—the waiting produces patience and strength of character. The waiting gives you roots so that you may also grow upward and produce fruit. The waiting is not wasted, it ends in the dawn of resurrection.
1. Isaiah 7:14 (ESV)
2. Luke 1:78-79 (NLT)
3. John 1:1, 4-5 (NKJV)