Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. – Luke 1:21 NRSV
I have met very few people who enjoy waiting. Yet, here we are again in the season of Advent, with one of it’s major themes being “waiting”. We await the advent of King Jesus. Wait a minute, you may think, hasn’t Jesus already come? Isn’t Christmas the celebration of his birth? His incarnate arrival on earth?
Yes, but of course this is true. Yet, Advent is also about our wait for the return of King Jesus. We await his second coming, even as we remember and celebrate the advent (or arrival) of his first coming. We wait for the consummation of the age. We wait for the kingdom of God, inaugurated in Jesus’ first coming, to fully arrive in his next coming. Come, King Jesus! How we need you today.
As this Advent season takes hold I have been discovering a new understanding of what it means to wait. You see, I’m in a liminal season myself. It’s a time of new beginnings and transitions professionally and personally. While the new chapter of ministry has begun and continues to unfold with all kinds of new discoveries, challenges and opportunities; it feels like the personal transition is a bit delayed. I’ve already begun this new life among Baptists in the Dakotas, but my wife and household have yet to arrive. This was all by design, a choice we made as my beginning took place alongside the beginning of another academic year for my teacher spouse. Knowing her to be the caring and considerate professional she is, I didn’t want her to have to jump ship mid-year on the lively group of first graders she was just beginning to round into form. So, we wait. I wait. What has already begun is not yet fully realized. What has started will one day be continued, be complete – our move, the relocation of our household and partnership to the same location of shared experience yet again.
Choosing to wait, and living in the wait, however; are two different realities. One can anticipate what it may look like or feel like, but then there is the lived experience that may or may not match the anticipation. Such, I think, is our experience in following King Jesus; for whom, I remind you, we continue to wait. We’ve had experience with Jesus, and we draw on that experience, remembering it and reliving it – even celebrating it. But we know there will come a day of reunion, when that experience is replaced by a new shared presence of King Jesus in foreverdom. And that, whether we verbalize it or not, is what we await. We wait for it as it either arrives in Jesus’ return, what we commonly call his “second coming”, or in our going to meet him upon our departure from this earth (today you will be with me in paradise – Lk 23:43). We, too, are in a liminal time of waiting; though we seldom think of life as such. No, we live as if our time is truly our own, that we control the trajectory of life and even the duration of our own timeline. How might things look if we, instead, behaved in life with a more prescient appreciation of it’s truly liminal nature? Might each day be looked upon more as a gift? Might we endeavor to make the most of the days, filling them with meaning and purpose, with ever an eye toward the Day of the Lord?
If Jesus is the bridegroom, and we, the Church, are his bride; shouldn’t we long for our reunion? Might our reality be one that drives efforts at communication (prayer), and plans for reconnection? Has his physical absence made our hearts grow fonder, or caused us, the Church, to wander?
Truth be told, as a preacher, the first couple of Sundays in Advent often caused me to shudder a bit in my sermon preparation. You see, those Sundays are often assigned Scripture texts pointed to the second coming of Jesus, giving us a rounded out experience of an advent, not just one sided in its anticipation of Bethlehem. I would puzzle and grapple with how to make relevant what always seemed kind of a yawner to the congregation. “Second coming? Yes, we know that’s important for some reason, but let’s talk and sing about the baby. That’s way more interesting.” But is it?
Given my fresh appreciation of waiting, I wonder. My bride of 38 years, I find, is missed daily for all kinds of little things that go way beyond the routines and chores of domesticity. Relationship can be maintained and nurtured despite distance. Technology exists today that makes it possible for me to communicate regularly with my sweetheart, whereas one hundred years ago when my Grandad, Clyde Cash, homesteaded in North Dakota, he had to wait days for a letter to arrive from Anna B. Legend has it that one such letter came with an ultimatum given, “either you come home or I’m moving on”. Needless to say, the homestead claim was forsaken, for which entire generations of Clyde & Anna Cash’s are thankful. Relationships are best when cultivated in shared space.
What does the shared space of your relationship with King Jesus look like this Advent season? Do you share a cup of coffee or tea, a prayerful conversation, and ponder a “word” together daily? Do you “check in” multiple times each day, as if by text or instant message? Is there a night-time recollection? Are you on a book club type of journey? Do you enjoy the solitude of silence that requires no words? These are all things that can help with the wait. But, meanwhile, we wait. I’m told “good things come to those who wait”. Let’s just wait and see.