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Advent means waiting

When will he ever come? God’s people wait for Jesus.

Wait. It may just be the biggest little word in the Bible describing real faith.

A farmer must wait for the rains and the following crops, says James (5:7). Servants wait for their master to return (Luke 12:36), and bridesmaids wait for the groom (Matthew 25:5), says Jesus. We wait in hope for the Lord, says David (Psalm 130:5). Saints in heaven are instructed to wait just a little while longer until the judgment (Revelation 6:11).

“Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently,” wrote St. Paul (Romans 8:24,25). But how patient are we really? It depends how much we trust the One who makes the promise to be fulfilled.

They waited for a baby

Elizabeth knew a bit about waiting. She was married to Zechariah and was no longer expecting to have a child. Scripture says, “They were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive” (Luke 1:7).

Only a woman can really understand the agony behind these words. Can you imagine Elizabeth, the young bride, excitedly looking forward to her first pregnancy? It’s all she ever dreamed of, being a wife and mother, the happy manager of her family. Imagine her friends and family, as weeks pass into months, giving her that knowing look and asking, “Anything yet?” She shakes her head shyly, with a bit of concern weighing on her heart. Zechariah is busy with his work, and, if he is bothered by her childlessness, he doesn’t let on. The months become years, and she pleads to God, “Have mercy on me, Lord, and grant me a child!”

After a time, her prayers for a child become less fervent, less frequent. The dreaded word barren is whispered behind her, the word she herself has whispered within.

Slowly the truth sinks in that she will be one of those women who simply will not be able to conceive. She will be that aunt who always will look on at the happy families of her sisters and brothers, smiling with congratulations outside but inside feeling cheated of her great dream.

Now she is far beyond the age of childbearing. She’s become more comfortable with her station in life; she has accepted childlessness as God’s will for her. Her friends are no longer talking about their children so much. Her life is wrapped up with serving her husband in his priestly duties and honoring the God who called him to serve.

And then . . .

Something strange happened at the temple when Zechariah was serving as presiding priest. It took him an achingly long time to come out and bless the people after prayers. And when he did, he couldn’t say a word. He was struck dumb.

Elizabeth asked, “What happened?” But he could not answer. Then on a piece of writing paper she asked again. Out came the scrawled, silent story of the heavenly angel who visited him in the temple and promised, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord” (Luke 1:13-15). And the reason Zechariah couldn’t speak? He couldn’t believe the angel’s words. Speechlessness was God’s powerful sign to the old man that he was telling the truth about this coming child.

Waiting is still the heart of Advent faith.

Elizabeth sits down, struck speechless herself. “Me? Now, at this time of life? And what about this child that is to come from my body—the herald of the Messiah, a delight to many? And Zechariah—how long have you been praying for a child? Can this be true?”

It was. Shortly thereafter, her aging body sprang to life and she was found to be with child. “ ‘The Lord has done this for me,’ she said. ‘In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people’ ” (Luke 1:25).

In her sixth month, Mary of Nazareth came to visit and stayed with Elizabeth until the birth of the baby. “When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy” (Luke 1:57,58). His name was John.

They waited for Jesus

Waiting patiently is the heart of the Advent message first spoken in Eden: “I will put enmity between you [Satan] and the woman [Eve], . . . he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15). The snake-crusher would come and restore all things!

Maybe Eve thought the Lord would fulfill his promise already in her first child, Cain. She would be disappointed and called to a lifetime of waiting, then dying, without seeing the fulfillment.

Many dozens of generations would pass, and the children of Israel would learn to pray fervently, “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning” (Psalm 130:5,6).

When the dawn of salvation finally broke in the birth of Jesus, true Israel rejoiced. They were like Anna who saw Jesus presented at the temple. We’re told that “she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38).

We wait for Jesus

Are you waiting too? Certainly not in the same way Elizabeth was, or Mary, or Anna. Our practice of counting down until Christmas can’t compare with the way God’s people were asked to wait for the arrival of God’s own Son from heaven. We live in the era of fulfillment, “the last days,” as the prophets spoke of them. We look back at those who have witnessed God’s salvation. “He has remembered his love and his faithfulness to Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God,” we often sing with gusto on Christmas morning in the words of Psalm 98:3.

Even so, yes, we wait. Waiting is still the heart of Advent faith. We wait for Jesus to fulfill his promise, “I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3). We wait for him to put all his enemies—sin, death, hell, Satan, and all who serve them—under his feet. We wait for him to finally rid our existence of sin, pain, sickness, disappointment, and death. We wait to see the new heaven and the new earth. We wait for the day when every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every mouth will declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Sometimes it seems so distant, so impossible. But it will come.

Maybe Elizabeth’s wait will help us not give up during ours.

Author: Kurt Ebert
Volume 107, Number 12
Issue: December 2020

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