What is it about waiting that is so difficult? And why are we as a people so much in a hurry to get somewhere or do something? Traffic, of course, is the worst example. The guy behind me sits on his horn if I wait less than a half second when the light turns green. What’s up with that? And have you noticed that a hurried-up culture is an irritable, angry culture? The inability to wait produces agitation, anxiety, and anger. It is the air we breathe. Faster, faster, faster.
Into this faster, faster, faster culture where everything must be fulfilled now, not a minute later, comes another voice, wait for the Lord. The Psalmist summons us to cultivate the capacity to wait patiently and courageously for the promise that still looms on the horizon. What looms is no small thing; indeed it is the fulfillment of God’s promise. We are summoned to wait upon it with patience, faith, and courage. For Christians the season of Advent is when we remember again to cultivate the disciplines and disposition to yearn for God while watching and waiting for the signs of God’s appearing. We are not alone. The Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber said it is precisely on this ground of waiting for God’s full redemption that Jews and Christians find their common hope. For Jews it is the first coming, for Christians it is the second coming of God’s Messiah. For all of us it is the fulfillment of the long awaited promise of God’s messianic reign on earth in peace with justice.
Advent then is not merely a nostalgic season to look backwards in history at Jesus’ birth and coo over the baby in the manger, while singing carols. No. It is the season of looking forward not backward. It is the time of leaning once again with audacious courage into the great hope of God’s promised redemption of all creation. The knowledge of the first coming of God in Jesus Christ only heightens our deep desire for the messianic fulfillment of the reign of God. This is why Buber could say this hope is the common ground of Jews and Christians.
The other day I waited in a line of people for over an hour. Curiously, I noticed that I had no agitation or anger nor was I nervously trying to hurry up the process. I looked around at others in the line who seemed to be sharing the same equanimity. The whole tone of waiting was different. Why? I think the object of my waiting made all the difference in my disposition. I was going to vote in an historic election. The waiting didn’t bother me because I was deeply excited about the end point, and so was everyone else waiting with me. I laughed when I arrived at the threshold of the voting both. There on the floor written in bright blue tape were the instructions: WAIT. That bright blue message increased my anticipation and excitement when I finally stepped into the voting booth.
Yes, of course, waiting to vote is small potatoes compared to waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promise. Some might say the comparison is unwarranted. Okay. Still, the object of our waiting makes all the difference in our capacity to wait with patience, faith, and courage. The object of our deep waiting is the promise of God coming among us. Wait for the Lord, said the Psalmist be strong and of good courage.
This is what Jesus had in mind for his followers when he offered the disturbing apocalyptic parables in the 25th chapter of Matthew’s gospel. The wise and foolish bridesmaids with their oil lamps, the servants with their talents, and finally the sheep and goats judged by their treatment of the invisible Christ among the broken and among us. These are all urgent calls to endure faithfully, wait courageously, and live justly in these days of expectation.
Waiting is a discipline of readiness. It is about living our lives mindfully, awake to the promise of God’s in-breaking reign, practicing the way of Jesus while we wait: feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty, stepping into prisons with gospel hope and sheltering those who have no place to call home.
The object of our waiting is the One who beckons us to faithfulness and courage in these days of expectation.
Wait for the Lord. Be strong and let your heart take courage. Wait for the Lord.
ROY W. HOWARD is pastor of Saint Mark Church in Rockville, Md.