Waiting is never easy. In our day of high speed internet, instant messaging, and fast food, waiting for anything longer than ten minutes can seem like an eternity. I remember the days as a child, when the seemingly endless fall season turned the corner towards Christmas day, how difficult it was for me and my siblings to wait to open our presents. We had such a hard time waiting that we would often coax our parents into allowing us to open some, or all of our presents on Christmas Eve. We couldn’t wait any longer, and our parents couldn’t abide another day of our whining and begging!
For Christians, the season of Advent begins a season of waiting. It marks the beginning of the liturgical church year and asks for expectant waiting of those who anticipate the coming of Christ, the King. Each new Advent season stirs expectations as Christians wait. How will the coming Lord be experienced this Advent season? Yet, perhaps more importantly, the season asks those who wait to reflect on the manner of waiting. Waiting, by its very nature, is demanding and difficult for even the most patient person. Like children who clamor to open their presents because they cannot wait any longer, we often wait impatiently, or can fall into despair as the season of waiting seems to have no end in sight.
Waiting for God is difficult; the Hebrew Scriptures tells of a whole history of Israel in waiting; waiting in the wilderness to enter the Promised Land, waiting for a king, waiting in exile for return to the land of Israel, and waiting for God to deliver them from all their oppressors. The psalmists elaborate this cry and give voice to all who cry out waiting: “How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever?”
Imagine, then, how their hearts stirred with expectation when a glimmer of promise arose. The prophet Isaiah cried out: “Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. Let every valley be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low…Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all flesh will see it together” (Isaiah 40:3-5). Yet, generations came and went and the years ebbed and flowed with no sign of the promised one. Israel went into exile, and the voice of the prophets became silent. Would there be a way in the wilderness, and a smooth path cut through the desert? Or would God leave the people as exiles in the wastelands?
For over two-thousand years since that time, generations have seen Advent seasons come and go, each year igniting hope and expectation as Christians anticipate Christ’s return. Unfortunately, as can happen, human beings are apt to lose hope and heart in waiting. We grow tired and weary, and we like doubters and skeptics of old ask, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:4). The trial in the exile of waiting involves clinging to hope and not growing weary or faint, to hold on rather than to give up. For those who would wait upon the Lord will renew their strength.
The Advent season calls all who would watch and wait to expect the Lord’s return ultimately, but also to look for the ways in which his presence comes to strengthen and uphold all who traverse every season of Advent waiting.
Margaret Manning is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Seattle, Washington.