Waiting: An Advent Meditation
Waiting for something precious and needed is agonizing. There is nothing more agonizing than waiting on God. We want the promises and we want them now. But “now” is often not part of God’s plan. Our salvation is incomplete. We are justified, that is, we are made right with God. We are sanctified, that is, we are engaged in the process by which we are becoming holy. And this is where we bog down. The older I get the more aware I am of the dark corners of my heart. The desire to be pure before God becomes agonizing because we want to be made right. But, that’s the last part of our salvation, glorification. We wait for that time when all will be made right. All of our suffering will be gone. Our tears will be wiped away. There will be no more sorrow. We wait for our grieving souls to be repaired. We do our best. Yet, we are still tangled up in our fallen world, often by our own fallen actions, and we wait for God to fix us.
Israel had been a prosperous nation. But they let their prosperity take them away from God. They claimed to be the people of God but refused to do his will. They found clever ways to get around the commands and laws of God. God warned them, but they kept telling themselves that God would not really judge them. He would not take away their wealth and allow another nation to destroy them. But he did.
How deep their grief must have been! The worst part of their situation is that they brought it on themselves. The Psalmist expressed their grief this way, Psalm 137:
1 By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.
2 On the willows there we hung up our lyres.
3 For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
4 How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land?
5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill!
6 Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy! (Ps. 137:1-6 ESV)
Waiting on God’s rescue must have felt hopeless. They remembered their homes, their friends and the Temple. Now they were hopeless slaves in a foreign land. But Isaiah the prophet wrote words of comfort, even before the exile. Isaiah chapter nine reminds us that God is faithful that he would not let their situation last forever.
1 But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.
2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.
3 You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. (Isa. 9:1-3 ESV)
Soon, there would be a time when it appears as if they conquered their enemies and they will celebrate as those who took the spoils of war and who burned their clothes soaked in the blood of their enemies. Their mourning will turn to joy. When deliverance came, the Psalmist wrote of that day:
1 When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.
2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.”
3 The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad. (Ps. 126:1-3 ESV)
There was something more going on than the long wait to be free from Babylon. Israel was waiting for the coming of the Messiah. The Messiah would restore the People of God and God would rule over his people. The promise is the giving of a child.
6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. (Isa. 9:6-7 ESV)
They recognized that God himself would come to them. He would be their redeemer. But it is that last title that mankind longs for, The Prince of Peace. The word for peace is “Shalom.” It is God’s peace. It is not just the absence of turmoil and troubles. Peace, Shalom, means a totality or completeness, fulfillment, maturity, soundness, wholeness, community, harmony, tranquility, security, well-being, welfare, friendship, agreement, success, and prosperity. It does not just mean one of two of these, it means all these concepts rolled up into one. Shalom is that state of existence that humanity knew before the fall and it is the desire of our hearts.
It would be 700 years before the coming of the Prince of Peace. They, like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all the heroes of the faith, died in faith having only seen the Promise from afar. The Prince of Peace came to us as a child. God, who made all things and is all powerful, became like us, to live like us and to suffer like us. He became our substitute. He died to forgive our sins. The coming king would not deliver us from life but transform life and he would overcome the darkness.
We are not comfortable with the real Christmas. We paint halos around the child. Mary and Joseph look so kingly and queenly as they gaze upon him. We deck the halls with holly. We decorate the tree and we wrap brightly colored gifts. We sing songs of cheer. We dress up our yards with snowmen and reindeer and Santa. If we really want to be true to the event, maybe we ought to put on our worn-out clothes and live in abject poverty to remind us how poor we are without Christ. It would remind us that we are still waiting.
We are waiting for the return of the Prince of Peace. The Second Coming is the theme of Advent. While our salvation has come, we are waiting for his return. We are waiting in a world where we suffer. Many live in poverty, a place where we have no peace, where the will of God is avoided, even by God’s own people. We are waiting for that day when God remakes this world. When he comes again, he will renew all things and there will be no more suffering, no more tears, no more, sin, no war, no fear.
If you long for that day, read The Last Battle, the last book of the Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis. They experience new life when they are called out of the Shadowlands and into Aslan’s world. It is exhilarating, it is all joy and laughter as they experienced the freshness of a new place.
Aslan said to them:
“You do not yet look so happy as I mean you to be.” Lucy said, “We’re so afraid of being sent away, Aslan. And you have sent us back into our own world so often.” “No fear of that,” said Aslan. “Have you not guessed?” Their hearts leaped, and a wild hope rose within them. “There was a real railway accident,” said Aslan softly. “Your father and mother and all of you are-as you used to call it in the Shadowlands-dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.” (Lewis, The Last Battle)
Death is the last enemy. And like the saints of old, we wait. We wait for that city whose architect and builder us God.