Advent, the four weeks before Christmas, is a time of waiting. We have all these wonderful rituals of expectation, excitement. The Advent wreath helps us to count the weeks, looking forward to Christmas. Christmas decorations fill the air with expectant excitement, while we can’t wait to open the gifts under the tree. All of this to remind us that we are waiting for Jesus.
But let’s be honest: waiting is no fun! Those gifts under the tree mock us. Some of us wait until nobody’s looking to pick the gifts up, touch them, shake them, smell them, trying to figure out what they are. Because we want to know! We don’t like to wait!
Perhaps you are okay with waiting for gifts. But what about the long queues at the Department of Home Affairs? Or the Traffic Department? Or when you are doing your Christmas shopping at Checkers, and the queues are all the way to the back of the shop, around the shelf right into the corner. And you are standing at the back.
Or when you’re ready to go to church, keys in hand, standing at the front door… and you hear your child calling, “where’s my shoes?” Or your husband saying, “Have you seen my wallet?”
We don’t like waiting. In general, we tend not to be very good at it.
The examples I’ve used aren’t even that difficult. These are not big, important things. But what if it is something that really matters?
When you and your husband both lose your jobs at the end of May. And you know God is going to provide, that God has something wonderful in store for you… You just have to wait. And waiting is okay, in June, July, August… But then it is November… December… When you have gone for medical tests and you are waiting for the doctor to call you with the results. Or when the results came back and it wasn’t good… now you must wait to see if the treatment is working. If you are in a difficult relationship, and you have been praying, pleading with God to intervene and change things. When your child does not know God, and you have been praying for years, waiting. When the drought has been going on for 5 long years, and you are waiting for life-giving rain.
When you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. You know God is going to provide! But in the meantime… you have to wait. It is tough. It leaves us feeling vulnerable, exposed, scared.
We’d much rather stand in the long queue in Checkers, than experience the kind of waiting that makes you feel like your insides are exposed. Waiting for God to intervene, while you can do nothing. While you are completely dependent on God.
What happens to us while we wait
Have you noticed how, while standing in the long queues at the Traffic Department, there will be at least one guy who completely loses it? Someone will start screaming, perhaps even throw their papers on the floor.
When we stand in long queues, people become impatient. We become angry. And we start taking it out on one another.
This is true, not only of long queues, but also of those insides-on-the-outside types of waiting. When we feel scared and vulnerable and uncertain, we become impatient. We get angry. And we start taking it out on one another. We become short-tempered and aggressive, finding fault with everybody else.
It is interesting that James says:
Beloved, do not grumble against one another (v9)
Because when we are waiting this insides-on-the-outside-waiting, that is exactly what we do. In church, we start finding fault. We start pointing out everything that is wrong with other people, in our family, in our country, with our government. We become negative grumblers. We become so scared, that we can only see the bad, that we start attacking and tearing others down.
How to wait
Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord.
Says James (v7). “Wait patiently” according to The Message. How would that work? What would it look like? How do we do it?
1. With faith
Well, for one thing, we are talking about faithful patience. We’re not talking about waiting at Home Affairs. This is waiting on the Lord. To wait on the Lord, is to wait with faith.
It is to wait in the knowledge and faith that God has a plan, that God is doing something and that God will do something. We might not know what the outcome will be. The outcome may be different from what we expected or hoped. But we believe that God is working, even in our current circumstances.
the Lord is compassionate and merciful. (v11)
This is the faith with which we wait. Faith in who God is and how God is. We are not at the mercy of fate, or of a god that wants to punish is. We are in the hands of the Lord who is compassionate and merciful. Who is good and loving.
We are not waiting to be punished, waiting like you do when you know you’re in trouble. We are waiting like you wait for Christmas gifts. We are waiting on good things. Because we know that God is good and loving. That we can trust God, that we are safe.
2. Like a farmer
Waiting on God is not a “sitting back and doing nothing” type of waiting. It is an active, busy waiting. James says that we wait like farmers patiently waiting on a crop.
In the “Christmas Farm” story we read, did you notice how Wilma and Parker waited for their trees to be ready to be sold as Christmas trees? They were busy, working, caring for their crop, preparing the crop.
For us it means that we are busy with the crop of life, of the church: we are growing in our life with God, in obedience to God. We are busy the whole time, working on becoming who God wants us to be, while we are waiting on the Lord.
3. Like the prophets
James also says that we should wait like the prophets, looking to their example of suffering and patience.
Prophets weren’t passive people, sitting in a corner waiting quietly. They preached the word of God amidst opposition and strife. In such circumstances, they persevered, stayed true to God’s calling.
They didn’t just calmly accept everything that happened. Prophets were continually in conversation with God, lamenting, telling God that they were struggling, that their task was difficult, pleading with God for deliverance.
Waiting like a prophet means being honest with God, telling God when life is difficult, pleading and continuing to plead.
4. Wait like Job
James also points his readers to the endurance of Job. But even Job didn’t just sit on an ash heap, decrying his circumstances.
When Job’s friends tried to convince him that he should just resign himself to his circumstances and accept what happened, as though all opposition came from God, Job said no. Job did not simply resign himself to difficult circumstances. Job knew injustice is injustice. He believed that God is good and merciful. He kept trusting in God, praying, pleading, kept on asking questions.
So perhaps this is how we should wait on the Lord: with impatient patience.
We are patient, because we know that God is good and faithful. We know that God will show up, that we can trust in God. We can have faith.
But, like Job and the prophets, there is a restlessness to our waiting. Like Jacob refusing to let go of the angel, we hold on to God. We keep on pleading, keep on begging. We continue to tell God about the things that are wrong.
This is not complaining for the sake of complaining. This is talking to God about everything, BECAUSE we believe and trust in God.
And then we can even be a little more patient with one another. Because we are not taking our impatience out on one another, but we have given it to God. And we trust God.
Waiting on the Lord is not always easy. It is tough. Not simply because we are impatient, but because we feel exposed and scared. Because the things that we are waiting for, are often really tough, things that really matter.
Waiting is hard work.
And sometimes we have to wait a really, really long time.
Advent is a reminder to wait. Even if it is difficult. Even if it is painful.
We wait in faith, because we believe that God is good and loving. We don’t give up. We keep on going on, every day, speaking honestly to God, praying for the Lord to come.
Along the way, we might find that we were the crop all along, the trees being tended and pruned, becoming strong. So that we can bear beautiful, good fruit, to God’s glory.