I wonder what your symbol of waiting is. The bus stop, train station, school gate; red brake lights, red traffic lights; the egg timer on the computer, the slow-boiling kettle, the long-winded preacher…
We spend a lot of our time … waiting.
I struggle to enjoy waiting. Some might take the opportunity whilst stuck in a traffic jam to pray or worship or something equally holy. I just get cross and put the Foo Fighters on.
Advent is about waiting. Advent isn’t just ‘that bit before Christmas’, like the check-in desk is to a holiday. And advent isn’t Christmas itself, whatever the shops would have us believe.
Advent is when we remember that the people of Israel waited for their expected Messiah for a very very very long time. And we remember that we are waiting for that Messiah to return again and finally and once and for all sort everything out. So advent is definitely not just the bit before Christmas.
There’s a lot of biblical precedent for waiting. Noah waited. Abraham waited. Moses waited, Joseph waited, Ruth and Naomi waited. David waited, the prophets waited. All these different people pleaded and begged and bribed God to do things at their speed, rather than his, and all failed. Because God will not be rushed.
As we wait for Jesus to come again, I wondered which biblical characters we might find ourselves behaving like.
The story of the golden calf tells us a lot about waiting. Moses had gone up the mountain and had been gone ages. Aaron and the people got fed up with waiting. Things were better in Egypt, at least there we could do things to make the gods work for us – rituals and sacrifices and we could touch and see the Egyptian gods because they were made of real stuff. So instead of waiting for God, they made their own out of gold.
A lot of people have got fed up with waiting for God and decided to make their own. Or to go back to their old ways. Or make church like the golden calf – familiar things, familiar rituals, that feel like they are achieving something. But God will not be bribed with ritual.
Maybe we find ourselves waiting like the zealots or Pharisees of Jesus’ day. Two very different groups that both wanted to make the Messiah come quicker because he would overthrow the Romans. So they busied themselves with forcing God to act quicker – the zealots with violence and the Pharisees with holiness.
It can be very tempting to try and rush God. How many times have you heard people say that once everyone in the world has heard the gospel Jesus will come; or if we all say the right prayer; or return the Jews to Israel; or believe the same things about Jesus or moral and ethical issues… then Jesus will be forced to return because we’ll have done our side of the bargain. I’ve done a, so will you do b. Bargaining with God. We always try it, but he doesn’t do it.
The prophets had a lot to say about waiting. They were constantly addressing a people who were waiting. And their message I think is the same as the message to us as we wait.
Wait patiently. And while you wait, be faithful. And by faithful I mean worship God even when he doesn’t work at your speed; submit to God even when he doesn’t do what you want when you want; and serve God even when it feels like a waste of time.
There is hope.
Jesus will come again. That is our hope. We will meet him and welcome him here to earth where he will renew all things. In the meantime we live lives in which we do not get distracted into making our own gods or bribing or bargaining with God but in which we wait expectantly, live hopefully, and serve faithfully. It won’t make him come any quicker, but the waiting will be much better, and allowing God to break into our lives like he did at Christmas is the best type of waiting there is.