What are you waiting for?
Christmas morning? A job promotion? A phone call from a friend? An answered prayer?
We all wait for something or someone throughout our lifetimes. While our life situations constantly change, our expectation for what’s next remains. For example, when you were a senior in High School, I bet you couldn’t wait to graduate. When you were dating the person you loved, you probably looked forward to the day you could marry them. When you started working at that new company, you probably made a plan for how you could work your way up. The point is that we are constantly waiting for what’s next, and once we achieve it, we immediately find something else to replace it as our new goal.
WORTH THE WAIT?
We don’t like to wait. That’s why the American people are hard-wired to utterly despise the DMV. Sometimes we question whether our desires are even worth the wait, especially when the waiting is painful. It wears on us to see others receive what we want so desperately for ourselves, from having iPhones to having babies. Waiting is also reminiscent of delayed punishment, that terrifying feeling you get when you used to hear: “just-you-wait-until-your-father-gets-home…!”
And yet each year, Christians all over the world participate in something called Advent- a celebration of waiting. Yes, you read that correctly. Whether you’re a kid chowing down on 25 days’ worth of chocolate from a calendar, or a congregant watching the pastor light 4 weeks’ worth of candles, the intention is that we enjoy the wait.
THE WHAT AND WHY OF WAITING
We get the word Advent from the Latin, adventus, which means “coming” or “arrival.” The Church celebrates Advent in order to anticipate the birth of Christ, God’s arrival in the flesh. The purpose of the Advent process is that we allow God to prepare our hearts for the amazing miracle of Christ’s incarnation. He really did come into our world as a baby, and that fact alone is worthy of Advent-style devotion year round!
But wait- there’s more! Advent anticipation is not just about the birth of Christ, but also about His second coming. As Christians, we wait for Christ to return because He told us that He would. The book of Revelation details the end of history as we know it, a time when God will establish a new heaven and a new earth. When Jesus returns, Satan will be completely vanquished and all suffering will end. (You can read more about this in the Revelation of John, the final book in the Bible.) Thus, when we sing “O Come, O Come Immanuel,” we harmonize our future expectations with the 400 years of waiting the Jews experienced before the Messiah was born.
Advent is a celebration of waiting on two levels: first, we remember what it was like to wait for the Messiah to arrive. Second, we wait for Him to return. Theologians classify this conundrum as the ‘already-not yet’ paradigm; Christ has already arrived, but His return has not yet come to pass. (Think of it as a Venn diagram where we live in the overlay of the two ages.)
The “already” is intrinsically tied to the “not-yet”; when we remember how God fulfilled His promises in the birth of our Messiah and through the death and resurrection of Christ, we can trust that the same God will make good on His promise to return. We live in a beautiful tension.
THERE IS WONDER IN THE WAIT
For Christians, the wait for salvation is over. We already have victory in Christ. When He said, “It is finished,” He meant it! Now we have access to the Father who loves us and created us because of Jesus’ death on the cross. So when we pause during Advent and “wait on God,” we are saying: “Christ is enough in this moment.” This is how we subordinate our present circumstances to the power and sufficiency of Christ’s atonement.
And with joy and hope, we look forward to the day when He will return. And we thank God that it has not yet occurred because there are so many people in our lives who don’t know Jesus yet. Therefore, this wait is an expression of God’s grace and mercy, that we still have time to see God’s kingdom advance in our lifetime. “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9, ESV) There is wonder in this wait!
Growing up as a competitive swimmer, my coaches would often give me sets called “active rest.” This is when you continue swimming at a slower pace to recover from the other difficult sets instead of stopping entirely. It’s ironic, to rest while moving. But that’s essentially what God is doing in our age. Remember the ‘already-not yet’ concept? We are at a time of active rest. We are saved because Christ already came, but God has a lot of work to do through us before Christ comes again. Therefore, Advent is as much a call to action as it is a reminder to rest.
THE WAIT AND THE WEIGHT OF THE CROSS
Sometimes waiting is difficult. Scratch that- waiting is always difficult. So I encourage you to refer to the cross for encouragement in your wait, for it is the most epic wait of all time that occurred on a cosmic scale. “Because no other could do it, he himself went to the greatest possible distance, the infinite distance. This infinite distance between God and God, this supreme tearing apart, this agony beyond all others, this marvel of love, is the crucifixion. Nothing can be further from God than that which has been made accursed.” (Simone Weil, Waiting for God.) When Jesus died, He spent 3 days cut off from God, the perfect triune relationship severed by substitutionary atonement. Allow what Christ did for you, the wait and weight of the cross, to put your wait in perspective.
WORSHIP WHILE YOU WAIT
The Bible is littered with stories of waiting. When we read them and make them the prayer of our heart, the purpose of Advent comes to fruition in our own faith. The psalms, for example, tell of David’s agony and his hope in waiting on God. (Psalm 27:14, 37:7, 130:5.) Consider Mary, who in the midst of waiting for her redeemer to be born, she blessed us with one of the most beautiful hymns ever inspired, the Magnificat. (Luke 1:46-55.)
I think of my own relationship with God, and how impatient I am with my Heavenly Father who is endlessly patient with me. Why do I convince myself that God is not worth the wait, that He should act according to my timeline? This is why I need Advent: it is good for my soul because it combats my idolatry. And I want to invite you to join me.
START WAITING, RIGHT NOW
Schedule silence. Wait for God. You can start right now. The Christmas season is a perfect time to cultivate the spiritual disciplines of prayer and solitude. Here’s my challenge to you: stop reading and start listening to God, RIGHT NOW. You can do this by reflecting on the wait and weight of the cross. Bring what you’re waiting for before your Father. Pray for friends and family who do not yet know God.
Hey! You’re still reading! Here’s another way to worship while you wait this month:
Check out this interactive Advent devotional you can access online: http://www.d365.org/followingthestar/
YouVersion also offers several Bible Plans to help Jesus’ birth become a point of your daily reflection.
My Grandma loves the Lord and keeps a little sign by her door that says, “Perhaps today!” as a reminder that Jesus is returning. Many of my family members view it as rather morbid for an entry way, but there is remarkable beauty in it as well. My Grandma’s sense of urgency is real, and it compels her to share her faith with anyone and everyone she can. She knows that Jesus will come like a ‘thief in the night,’ and she wants to be ready. But we must not untether our anticipation of Christ’s return from its foundation in what has already been fully accomplished for us on that amazing cross 2,000 years ago. Advent is one way we can remember what God has done for us and simultaneously look forward to what He will do. Advent awaits, let’s enjoy it! “Daily expect the Day of God, eager for its arrival,” (2 Peter 3:12.)