Waiting can be difficult.
I remember as a kid searching the house between thanksgiving and Christmas hoping to discover a cache of gifts. I plead the 5th regarding whether I ever succeeded, or whether I may or may not have unwrapped, opened and played with, and rewrapped and rehid any gifts.
I remember sitting in doctors’ offices fidgeting, doing the “seek and find” puzzle in Highlights Magazine.
Do you have trouble waiting?
My observation is that portable multimedia technology makes it even more difficult for us to be patient while we wait. Many of us will reach for a cell phone or other device if more than 30 seconds passes between activities. How often do you see people at stoplights or even in slow traffic checking email or Facebook?
Advent is the time in the Christian Year during which we practice waiting as a spiritual discipline. And honestly, we are not very good at it much of the time. We want to sing Christmas Carols rather than Advent hymns. We want to already see the baby Jesus in the manger weeks before our Christmas Eve service.
If the Christian faith wants to teach us any kind of discipline in our lives, it is that of waiting well. Since the Lord first visited Abram and Sarai, the promise came to be fulfilled for a future generation. The gift to them was the hope that their descendants would be blessed to be a blessing. Granted, Abram and Sarai would also benefit and experience joy. The true gift remained for generations yet to be. 200 years later Jacob and his sons move to Egypt. Another 400 years and the 12 tribes of Hebrews left Egypt to begin their 40 year journey to the Promised Land. Thus the land was finally given to Abraham’s descendants more than 600 years after it was first promised. And even then, it would take generations for the land to be fully occupied.
Likewise, from the time of the Babylonian and Assyrian conquests of Israel and Judah another 600 years passes before the messiah arrives to fulfill promises made by Isaiah, Micah and other prophets. Waiting is inherent in our faith.
Jesus repeatedly promises a coming kingdom and a second coming of the messiah, the timing of which seems fluid. We hear things like, “You will not pass through all the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes” (Mt 10:23), and, “Not all of these will pass before the son of man comes” (Matthew 16:28).
Similarly, regarding the Kingdom of Heaven/God:
- “The Kingdom of God is among you,” (Luke 17:21)
- “The Kingdom of Heaven has come near,” (Mt 3:2)
- “There are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Kingdom of God,” (LK9:27)
The times appear to stretch and collapse. This is the “already / not yet” nature of our faith.
The same applies when we talk about salvation – we have been saved, we are being saved, we shall be saved. All are equally true simultaneously, though they appear to be contradictory.
We are waiting for something which we already have received. Paul uses the language of “first fruits” to describe this experience:
- “we have the first fruits of the spirit while we await [the completion of our] adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” (Rm 8:23)
- “Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.” (1 Cor 15)
The question is then: