Posted simultaneously at Soulation's Sturdy Answers.
Last night I wheeled a cart through Michael’s and perused the festive aisles looking for craft supplies to deck my apartment with Christmas cheer. I stopped in the floral section, wondering whether I could turn a few wintery branches into an Advent tree.
When I was a little girl, I’d bound out of bed every morning in December, delighted to put another ornament on the Advent tree. As its branches grew fuller, my wait grew shorter. Christmas morning, with its stuffed stockings, piles of presents, and sticky cinnamon rolls, was just a string of frosty mornings away.
Waiting is exciting when you can measure progress, and the reward you’re waiting for is within reach. Otherwise, waiting can feel downright unbearable.
When I turned 19, I started waiting for my adult life to start. College, I knew, was a sheltered training ground. When it was over, I had grand plans to use my post-college 20s to outpace the inexorable whirring of the clock’s hands. I’d work hard, like I always had. I’d shoot for the moon, like I’m prone to do. And by the time I was 30, I’d own my own home, be established in a lifelong career, and be married, or close to it. But life wasn’t keen on cooperating with my ambitions, and I’ve spent the greater part of my 20s in bed, sick, and then fighting relapse after relapse. I’ve weathered a broken engagement, and have dated a lot with little success.
Life has begun to feel like one long season of waiting.
For a while after I first got sick, I waited for my life to get easier. But the losses of the last few years have taught me that nothing’s guaranteed. It’s not a guarantee that I’ll return to complete health or find a life partner. I oughtn’t sit around wishing and waiting for things to change, because God never promised my life would look the way I want it to.
I am learning, though, to wait for God to keep the promises he has made. He’s promised he’s making all things new. He’s promised he’ll work all things together for good for those who love him. He’s promised heaven as a reward for those who live for him.
Most days, though, it feels like God’s doing his mysterious redemptive work behind a curtain, and I don't have a backstage pass.
I wonder if this is a taste of what Joseph felt when he was thrown, bloodied and betrayed, into a pit by his brothers, then maligned by his best friend’s wife, then thrown into jail, where the years slipped quietly by.
I wonder if it’s how Abraham felt when, 25 years after God’s promise of a son, his very old wife still wasn’t pregnant.
I wonder it it’s how David felt when, 15 years after he was anointed as the future king of Israel, he still spent his days tending a bunch of stinky, bleating sheep, then running for his life from King Saul.
Reading the Old Testament makes me wonder whether waiting is one of the greatest Christian virtues.
The person who waits patiently for God’s promises — who hopes in the things they can’t see — is the kind of person who ends up in a biblical hall of fame, like the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11.
These famous, faithful men and women never received the things God promised the Israelites. Instead, they greeted them from afar, and then turned their hearts toward their heavenly home. The hope of heaven can sustain us when the reward we are waiting for seems elusive. Not just because there will be mansions, crowns, and streets of gold in heaven. And not just because in heaven there will be no more pain or loss. In heaven, we get Jesus — all of him in all his glory. We will know him fully, even as we are fully known. And as the apostle Paul reminds us,
“All of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding ‘Yes!’ And through Christ, our ‘Amen’ (which means 'Yes') ascends to God for his glory.”
This month my family will gather to continue the Advent tradition I loved as a little girl, as we count the days to Christmas.
The word “advent” is from the Latin word meaning “coming.” For 400 years after the last Old Testament prophet foretold the coming Messiah, God’s people waited for the Messiah to appear. And now, two thousand years later, we continue to wait because he’s told us he’ll come again. We wait because we know he keeps his promises. We saw his greatest promise fulfilled in the baby in the manger, the man on the cross, and the empty tomb.
And so, this Advent, when our lives may not look the way we hoped, we wait for the day when we will be united, once and for all, with the One in whom all God’s promises are fulfilled.
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© by scj