Waiting –it is not a discipline that many people embrace in today’s culture. We are used to the instant gratification of the high-speed internet, cell phone texting and email responses. During the holidays I think most of us can admit that the long lines, the heavy traffic and the traveling delays do anything but foster joy to the world and peace on earth. So, how are we, as followers of Christ to shine His light of joy and peace in our little corners of the world this Christmas? How can we change the annoyance of worldly waiting and embrace the peace and joy of spiritual waiting? Perhaps the answers can be found in the details of God’s Word as He tells us the story of Christ’s birth.
When most of us read the story of that first Christmas, we undoubtedly recognize the end of the waiting for the coming Messiah. Four hundred years of silence had ended and “…when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law…” (Gal 4:4-5). The waiting was over and in their midst, the Word had become flesh. Just remembering that should bring joy to our hearts.
If we dare to dig a little deeper, however, I think God beckons us to continue to live our lives spiritually waiting. If we look at the examples of the people who surrounded the birth of Christ, we can find many applications to help us determine our personal posture of waiting this advent season. Let’s start with Zechariah. As a preface to Christ’s birth we read of Zechariah in Luke 1. Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, were barren and advanced in years. They had been waiting for God to bless them with a child. Then one day Zechariah, the priest, had the awesome and rare privilege of burning incense on the Day of Atonement. For an old man who didn’t give up on waiting, this would be no ordinary event. You see, the angel Gabriel visits him as he burns the incense and we read in Luke 1:12-14: “And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.’”
Can you relate to Zechariah and Elizabeth? Have you been waiting for something for so many years that you are tempted to give up? It is so easy for us to feel as if God doesn’t hear our prayers or that His timing is just too slow. It is tempting to stop praying for that lost loved one who continues to make bad choices or to stop hoping for a child to be conceived or to give up on reconciling with that person who keeps rejecting you. When we look deep into the Christmas story, we see that God reminds us to prayerfully wait on Him. Zechariah’s example shows us that waiting is not passive, it is active. We wait prayerfully until that day when our prayer is answered and we, too, can experience the truth of God’s Word- you will have joy and gladness!
If we look into Joseph’s role in the story of Christ’s birth we also see another posture of waiting. Joseph was betrothed to Mary. This was like being married except for the physical intimacy of marriage. When Mary shows up pregnant, poor Joseph doesn’t know what to do. Instead of reacting to the new development, Joseph waits. He considers the options: If he divorces her publicly she could be stoned. If he doesn’t divorce her, they would be ridiculed and ostracized, and he would be shamed as people secretly accuse him of indiscretion. In Joseph we see a posture of waiting for direction -and the Lord miraculously provides it! We read in Matthew 1:20: “But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.’” Joseph heeds God’s directions and becomes the earthly father figure for Jesus.
What would Joseph have missed if he had reacted to Mary’s situation instead of waited for God’s directions? Are you in the process of making a life-altering decision? God’s Word shows us that as followers of Christ we are to wait for direction instead of react to our changing circumstances. God alone sees the big picture and tells each of us as we wait for His guidance: “I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
As the mother of Jesus, Mary holds a special place in this Christmas story. She was the chosen virgin who would give birth to the Savior of the World. Looking at her through the lens of adoration, however, we can miss the simple struggle that Mary must have gone through as she lived a life of submissive waiting. Her tender response when the angel Gabriel visits her to tell her she is to give birth to the Son of God ushers in months of waiting and wondering how God’s plan would unfold. We read in Luke 1:38 Mary’s response to Gabriel: “”I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered.” May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.” Later we read that her betrothed, Joseph, resolves to divorce her quietly when he finds out she is pregnant. As Joseph waits for direction, Mary is forced to wait in submission. Only God can change Joseph’s heart and only God knows the plan He has for Mary. Rather than frantically try to convince Joseph that she is telling the truth, Mary waits submissively for God’s plan to unfold. How she must have rejoiced when Joseph told her about his dream!
And finally, only a few days after Jesus’ birth, Mary visits the temple to dedicate him. Simeon is there waiting, as he had been for so many years, to see the Christ child. Through the Spirit he recognizes Jesus and praises God in front of Mary and Joseph, telling Mary: “”This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35) Submissively, Mary waits for this sword that will pierce her own soul. Are you needing to trust God in an area of your life that seems impossible? Are you in the midst of a trial that seems to never end or a circumstance that is overwhelming? Perhaps like Mary, God is asking you to wait submissively. Submissive waiting isn’t easy because it demands complete trust. If your world is turned upside down, humble yourself before God’s plan and wait submissively even in the midst of not understanding what He may be doing. Instead of frantically arguing your point of view, wait submissively for God to open the hearts of others. Instead of seeking relief from your pain, wait submissively for Him to be your healer. God reminds us that “[He] is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him,” (Nahum 1:7)
At the end of the Christmas narrative, we read about three kings who traveled a very long distance to see the Christ child. They had seen His star in the sky and set out to worship Him even though the journey would be long and difficult. These three kings show us the importance of waiting with anticipation. As we read Matthew 2:10-11, we can almost feel their anticipated exuberance – “When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.” Each day when you awake in the morning, what are you anticipating? What gets you excited and thrilled to start your day? This journey of life is long and hard, just like the journey the three kings took. Let’s follow their example and be overjoyed as we gaze into the radiance of God’s Word. And let us each anticipate coming into His presence every day as we open our hearts to Him and present Him with the gifts of intimacy, desire and trust.
Yes, Jesus came that night in Bethlehem as God made His dwelling among us. But He is also coming “on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.” (Matthew 24:30) Are you waiting for Him? “Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.” (Psalm 27:14) As you follow Jesus in your daily walk remember to prayerfully wait for Him to answer your heart. Remember to wait for His directions instead of react to your circumstances. Remember to submissively wait and trust His plan over your own desires. Whether you are standing in lines, stuck in traffic or delayed in your travel plans this holiday season, shine the light of Jesus as you contemplate and wait for Him to come again. Let the words of the prophet Isaiah be written on the tablet of your heart -“Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.” God is acting for you, and beloved, He is worth the wait!
So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him.