Late in time, behold Him come / Offspring of a virgin’s womb. (“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”)
In the liturgical calendar, Advent is the season where we anticipate the coming of Christ’s birth. And today, December 25, we celebrate the arrival of Jesus. Today we rejoice over Christ’s birth and commemorate our waiting come to an end.
But for many of us, today, tomorrow, and for the foreseeable future we’ll continue to be thick in seasons of waiting: for a new job, a spouse, a child, a home, a big move.
As we celebrate our waiting come to an end by Christ’s coming, we can consider what the season of Advent teaches us about waiting.
Advent spurs us to actively wait with anticipation.
I’ve been trained to think that waiting is a necessary yet frustrating means to an end. Waiting is part of the human experience, best to be minimized and rushed through with as little consideration as needed.
Yet as I get older, I’m realizing that waiting isn’t necessarily a problem or something to passively engage. In her book “The Meaning Is in the Waiting,” Anglican scholar Paula Gooder likens the waiting of Advent to pregnancy, and it’s a helpful analogy for our daily waiting.
“The waiting of pregnancy is about as active an occupation as one can hope to engage in,” writes Gooder. “This kind of waiting may appear passive externally, but internally consists of never-ending action…The loss of an ability to wait often brings with it the inability to be fully and joyfully present now.”
A mother waits for her child’s arrival by nurturing the life within her and waiting, praying and hoping the child comes at nine months (not before and hopefully not after). God was working through His people while they waited for Jesus. Whatever we find ourselves waiting for, we can choose to actively engage the waiting and facilitate growth so that we’re ready when the wait comes to an end.
The culmination of Advent with Jesus’ arrival empowers us to wait.
Even if we believe waiting has value and we should actively wait, waiting requires patience and at times endurance. So how do we wait? Advent tells us something about that. As we actively wait, we fix our eyes on the One whose birth we anticipated.
Jesus isn’t just a good example of what it looks like to wait with purpose (although He is that). Through His power, we’re enabled to wait. Paul writes in Philippians that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)
Our hope isn’t that we can buckle down and bear a season of waiting. Our hope is that Jesus is faithful. We are able to actively wait because Jesus is at work in our lives.
Advent reminds us our hope isn’t in our temporary waiting being fulfilled.
For so many things that we wait for on this earth, we’re not guaranteed that our waiting will end. What we are promised is that we’ll be united with Jesus.
Just as the Israelites waited for the birth of Jesus, we wait for His return. This is our hope — not that we’ll marry or have children or find a dream job. All of our waiting in life is met in our desire and hope to be with Jesus. Jay and Katherine Wolf put it this way in the book “Hope Heals”:
One day, we will see. One day, the arc of our stories will all make perfect sense. One day, we will trace the lines of our scars and find them to have fallen in the most pleasant of places, to see in them our great inheritance. One day, we won’t need to hope, nor will we need to be healed because we will be face-to-face with the source of both, the source of everything…Jesus.
We certainly pray for our earthly hopes to be fulfilled. And we’re empowered to pray with more confidence because we know that even if our prayers aren’t answered this side of heaven, our great hope of being united with Jesus will be.
Today, we celebrate the “offspring of a virgin’s womb” who came “late in time,” and we remember that our waiting is not meaningless. And just as Jesus came more than 2000 years ago, we hold our hopes and fears for the future with confidence, because we know He will come again.