Not many worship services stick out in my mind, but I remember one from my freshman year of college. My church had been reading through the Bible in a year, with the pastor preaching each Sunday on a passage from that week’s reading—weaving together the story of redemptive history.
I remember the Sunday when we made the jump from the Old to the New Testament. Our worship pastor reminded us that God had been silent for 400 years between the last Old Testament prophet Malachi and the angel of the Lord appearing to Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father. Israel had been given all the promises and blessings as God’s chosen people, and they longed for the day when those promises would be fulfilled and God would send His Messiah. It was in the midst of waiting when Jesus was born.
To help us grasp the expectant longing of Israel, the worship pastor led us in 400 seconds of silence, representing the silence of God for 400 years. As the time of silence drew to a close, a soloist sang,
“Come Thou long expected Jesus, born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.”
That worship service was when I learned the spiritual practice of hopeful waiting. Just as the Israelites—God’s chosen people—waited for the first coming of Christ, Christians who have been grafted in as God’s children wait for the second coming of Christ. Yet as believers, our longings aren’t limited to our eternal inheritance; we long for God to make right what is broken in our lives and in our world.
HOPE IN THE WAITING
Our God isn’t a God of instant gratification. There’s no Amazon Prime membership for our prayers, guaranteeing the answer we want in two days plus free returns. In our culture, we see waiting as a setback. The terrible rush hour traffic, the one checkout line open at the grocery store, the loading icon on Netflix—every moment that causes us to pause is a moment lost. Not so in God’s Kingdom.
One passage God brought to my mind over and over again in my year of waiting is from Lamentations—a book full of Jeremiah’s grief over the fall of Jerusalem and his waiting for God’s salvation of Israel. It is in a book of mourning that God gives us this beacon of hope:
“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’ The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (Lamentations 3:21-26).
Jeremiah says it is good for us to wait for the Lord. God is good to those who wait for Him. When we are trusting and hoping in God’s ways and timing, waiting is a good and beneficial thing for us. All throughout the Bible we see God’s people waiting for His promise. Abraham waited 25 years for his promised son Isaac. Joseph was enslaved or imprisoned for 14 years before God fulfilled his dream to lead his people. King David waited more than 15 years between God anointing him and his taking the throne. It was 400 years between the last prophecy in the Old Testament and the annunciation of Christ in the New Testament, yet Paul writes that Christ came “when the fullness of time had come” (Galatians 4:4). Was waiting easy? No. Was it a part of God’s plan? Yes.
For several years in a row, my Christmas cards held exciting announcements. My husband and I got married. I graduated with my master’s degree. My husband was commissioned as an officer in the Army. We gave birth to our little girl. We moved. We got new jobs. Every Christmas we were able to celebrate reaching another life milestone.
Until last year. We were still in the long home study process for our adoption. We miscarried. Professional goals had yet to be reached. We were waiting.
I’m not at all saying God hadn’t been faithful. I could look back from month to month and see answered prayers, but so many of His answers had been to wait. I don’t like to wait, but as I scrolled through Christmas cards with tears in my eyes, God reminded me that the Advent season is all about waiting. Advent reminds us of Israel’s expectant waiting as they longed for God’s promised Messiah, and it stirs our longing for the second coming of our King. Advent is a celebration of waiting.
Advent negates all of Satan’s lies about God’s purpose in waiting. Waiting is not second best. Waiting does not prove God is out of control. Waiting does not mean you are missing out on God’s promises. When we hear these lies, we remind ourselves of the truth that waiting is a vital part of God’s good and sovereign plan for our lives as part of His redemptive story.
This Christmas season may not be easy for you and your family. If you’re where I was last year, it was a painful reminder of everything I didn’t have. A new child, a job promotion, a loved one’s healing—what are you longing for this year? Whether or not you have received what you prayed for in 2020, you can still rejoice in God who sent His Son as a babe to give us the greatest gift of all, His very presence.
“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us…full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). During this Advent season, bring your unmet expectations and broken hearts to the babe in the manger, and allow Jesus’ grace and truth to bring hope to your waiting. As Paul writes, “If we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:25). I pray that you will find that hope today as you wait patiently for the Lord.
How are you ‘holding onto hope’ this Advent season? Share with us in the comments!
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