We’re excited to share a number of Advent Reflections with you in the run up to Christmas this year, from a number of different voices in our church family.
Our hope is that as you take a moment to pause, to read and to reflect, you would experience the hope and anticipation of waiting for Jesus as we remember his first arrival all those years ago in Bethlehem, and live in expectation of his glorious return.
To Those Who Wait
Advent is a season for waiting, and good things come to those who wait.
Except, maybe they don’t.
What if we never get what we’re waiting for? How do we deal with promises like “weeping endures for the night, but joy comes in the morning” when the night doesn’t seem to be passing? Didn’t Jesus tell us that whatever we ask in his name will be done for us?
Hope deferred does indeed make the heart sick, and we’ve each had our share of heart-sickness (some would say much more that our fair share in 2020).
History tells us that the patient don’t always get what they wait for… whether it’s the faithful Israelites living in the hundreds years between the return from exile and the arrival of their Messiah only to die before the birth of Jesus, or the generations of steadfast saints who lived in expectation of Jesus’ return but had to settle for a return ticket to the renewal of all things: there have been a lot of people who haven’t seen the fulfilment of their hope and longing.
When we don’t get what we were hoping for, we often go searching for answers.
Job’s friends decide that, because obviously bad things never happen to good people, Job must not be as good as he seems, as he’s on the receiving end of major judgement for something. God’s response to this is a little mystifying but he does point out that Job’s friends are incorrect in their assumptions (and also he talks about hippos a bit).
It’s an easy trap to fall into, especially for those of us with a vocal inner critic: to assume the reason that we didn’t see the thing we were hoping for was because we got something wrong, possibly without even realising it.
Jesus himself doesn’t offer any clear answers (or much that resembles any kind of answer for that matter) when pressed on this kind of stuff. His disciples asked who sinned, the blind man or his parents, and Jesus says it’s neither: at least we can strike that option off the list. One thing Jesus does say with great clarity, is that in this life we will have trouble… but he does also promise to be with us.
I’ve lost count of the number of prayers I’ve prayed that didn’t “work” and the number of hopes I’ve written off. But every now and again there’s a story that pierces the night with its brightness.
I’ll never forget the tears of joy shed by a little girl able to run for the first time in over year, or the confused face of an elderly gentleman whose back suddenly stopped aching.
I’ve wept with those whose cries for a child seem to have gone unheard, but held miracle babies in my arms and wondered at the God whose blessings are abundant but seemingly inconsistent.
The book of Ecclesiastes is the story of a wise old man’s wrestle with this idea that life is like a vapour: it’s real, it’s there, but it’s unpredictable and you can’t grab hold of it. Qoheleth (the teacher) tells us that he’s seen everything that is done under the sun but he can’t explain it all. The book’s conclusions give us a key to what life is really all about: fearing God, keeping his commandments… and trying to embrace the joys you find along the way.
I’d wager he’s seen just enough of God’s goodness in the vapour to know that he’s worth serving, despite the mystery and apparent meaninglessness.
Qoheleth has come to realise that just because it didn’t happen yet doesn’t mean it’ll never happen, and just because it happened once doesn’t mean it’ll happen again.
There’s a mystery to the waiting but that’s not quite enough reason to give up hope.
There are no easy answers, no simple formulae and no magic wands to wave when it comes to this life of waiting with Jesus. There’s no promise of breezing through if we pray the right prayers, say the right words and consistently do the right thing.
Sometimes all there seems to be is a glimpse of the goodness and glory of the kingdom that’s about to come: and I think this is the evidence of the presence of the one promised to stay with us despite all the mystery.
So here’s to those who wait: may you get what you wait for, or not… may you know the one who waits with you and see just enough rays of the rising sun to know that dawn is on its way.