Waiting in Advent

We have entered into the Advent season, the time marked off in the Christian calendar when we pay attention to what God has done for us through the miracle of the incarnation. Advent comes from the Latin adventus, which means coming or visit. Advent means that God has come to us in the person of Jesus. And that is not all, for the first advent anticipates the second advent to come. Jesus has come and is coming. If hope has a history, it also has a future. But let us not move too fast. Before the coming there is the waiting. Advent is this season in the year when we realize the importance of waiting, watching, and paying attention to what God is doing. This is the time in the Christian story where we become less concerned about our responsibleness and more concerned with our responsiveness -- this is the time we worship. I don’t mean that Christian worship is passive, not at all. There are many things for us to do in order to express our love and devotion to God. But it is a season like this which reminds us there are things we cannot do, things we cannot fix, things we could never dream up, and that all we can do is to watch and wonder. God must save us, God must help us -- Jesus is the salvation of God born into our turbulent and chaotic history. He is the voice in the storm who speaks, “Peace, be still” (Mark 4:39).

Advent is this blessed realization that although we deeply depend on how this story turns out, we are not in control of it. All we can do is wait. But how should we wait? That too is a worthy question. For we can wait well or we can wait badly.

There is a section in the Psalms, precisely Psalms 37 to 40, which can help as a meditation on the experience, practice and reward of waiting. I consider it to be very helpful on this theme, an appropriate meditation for this season.

Psalm 37 begins this way:

Don’t worry... Trust in the Lord and do good. Then you will live safely in the land and prosper. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires. Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you... Be still in the presence of the Lord,
 and wait patiently for him to act. [Psalm 37:1, 3-5, 7, NLT]

There are at least four practices of waiting that are included in this psalm, four ways that we can learn to wait well. We can trust in the Lord, something that can be hard for us but is nevertheless necessary; we can take delight in the character of God, find our joy in who he is; we can commit all of our concerns to God, learn to unload our burdens to him; and we can practice stillness in his presence, ceasing our frantic activity in order to hear his words, “Peace, be still”.

Waiting is inherent to the Christian story, just as it is deeply at the core of human experience. The point is to learn how to do it well. I think Psalms 37 to 40 can help you in this. Perhaps you will need to slow down a little and chew on the words. But know that waiting for God is rewarded. Psalm 40, the concluding piece in this small section of psalms, reminds of this hopeful truth:

I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the Lord. [Psalm 40:1-3, NLT]

I really don’t know of a better commentary on what Christmas is than these lines from Psalm 40.

The coming of Jesus into the world was set against the background of waiting for him. Not that Israel knew concretely what they were waiting for exactly, for the prophets had only given the barest outline of what God intended to bring into the world -- a king, a servant, a sacrifice, a son. Perhaps we could say that Israel only knew that they were waiting, and that the fulfillment of their wait would be something that only God could bring. Sometimes that is all that can be known.

See you Sunday at 9:29 or 11:11.

Bob Osborne