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December 2021 - Waiting

If there’s one thing most of us do not like, it’s waiting. The time spent waiting seems to be such a waste as we think all the other, more productive things that we could  be doing. But we do spend a lot of time waiting. Maybe it’s waiting for medical test results to come back. Maybe it’s waiting for a long-anticipated trip. Maybe it’s waiting for better days to come. Of course, there are more ordinary, everyday types of waiting: being stuck in traffic; in the waiting room at the doctor’s office; waiting for the technician or repair person who is supposed to come in that 4-hour window of time that we’ve been given. We’ve been conditioned to be much less patient with the immediacy of online resources at our fingertips. If a website doesn’t respond within a very short period of time (think seconds), we’re ready to move on.  All of this makes us become very frustrated and impatient with waiting.

Advent is all about waiting—waiting for “him who is, who was and who is to come” (Revelation 1:4). Our waiting may seem rather strange because we are waiting for Christ who has already come, who is present and among us now, but who promises to come again in all his power and glory. Advent is a 4-week period that precedes Christmas. The purpose of Advent is not simply to prepare us to celebrate the Savior’s first coming; that is, his birth at Bethlehem some 2000 years ago. The primary purpose of Advent is to prepare us for his second coming; that is, the day when Jesus Christ will come again, or perhaps better put, will reveal himself on that great and final day. The truth is that Jesus withdrew only his physical presence. He remains with his faithful people, though unseen, until that final day. As he said to his disciples in the very last verse of Matthew’s Gospel: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). The return of Christ in great power and glory on that last day occupies our attention during the season of Advent, inviting us to be ready and prepared for that unknown day when he will come again to make all things new. For now, we wait.

To help us in our waiting during Advent, we use the Advent wreath. The Advent wreath is said to have its origins in the practices of our pre-Christian ancestors in northern Europe. As northern nights lengthened to the point where there was little or no daylight, the work of the people came to a halt. Wagon wheels were brought indoors and decorated with greens. This fallow time without light was also a time of waiting and expectation for the sun’s return. It’s no wonder that the Advent wreath is such a beloved symbol of Advent waiting. The lighting of candles each week on this wheel of time speaks deeply to our spirit. As Christians, we prepare again to receive the Light of the world in God’s gift of his only Son, Jesus the Christ. We prepare for that day when Jesus will come again to renew his creation.

Mary’s pregnancy was a time of waiting, like any pregnancy is. But this was different, as the angel Gabriel told her: “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:31-32). And then the waiting was over, as Paul the apostle writes: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5). Mary didn’t choose that time; God did. She waited patiently for the  God-appointed, right time when her Child would be born. This is what Advent points us toward: the coming of that Child, who was born, who lived and died and rose again, to set us free from sin and make us his own. Advent waiting leads to Christmas joy, which leads to Lenten sorrow, which leads to Easter exultation.

There is a redemptive aspect in our waiting. We stand in a long line of fellow believers who have gone before us; who waited for the fulfillment of their hope in Christ. When patience is scarce and we are tired of waiting, we sing the hymns of Advent, which renew our sense of purpose and hope. One such hymn is “Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers,” the last stanza of which reminds us:

            Our hope and expectation, O Jesus, now appear;

            Arise, O Sun so longer for, O’er this benighted sphere.

            With hearts and hands uplifted, We plead, O Lord, to see

            The day of earth’s redemption That sets Your people free!

            (Lutheran Service Book #515, stanza 4)

Waiting might never be our most favorite thing, but in Jesus we see a greater good in waiting with watchfulness and expectation for his promised coming. As the second to last verse of Scripture reminds us: “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20).