September 19, 2018

Advent: A Reminder To Wait for the God Who Takes His Time

Anunciation to Zacharias. Giotto

Note from CM: During Advent, I have asked some of our wonderful iMonk writers to share meditations on seasonal themes each week. On the second Sunday, we welcome our friend Randy Thompson to contribute his perspectives on Advent. I am grateful for each of these friends and gifted people, and know that what they share will help us prepare our lives for celebrating the Incarnation.

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Advent: A Reminder To Wait for the God Who Takes His Time
By Randy Thompson

Advent is a season of meditation on patience and hope, on expectations past and expectations present. It is a time for reflection on the big picture of God’s little history that often seems in danger of getting lost in the grand current of humanity’s self-importance, a history of rising and falling empires, military adventures, progress, plague, heroism, and baseness. Advent is a time to remember that we have a story that isn’t the world’s story. We forget this at the cost of our integrity, identity and spiritual health.

Advent reminds us first of all that our faith is the fulfillment of centuries of expectation, the hope that God’s promises to Abraham and to David would somehow come to fruition in human history, so that humanity could see God’s purposes in the flesh. Advent is our yearly reminder that Christ didn’t enter the scene of human affairs without context or preparation, but as One looked for and expected, at least by some.

In other words, Advent turns our attention to history. Not to humanity’s history, of powerful men (and they’re almost always men), rising powers, and falling powers. Of great advances and great reversals. Rather, Advent turns our attention to a little history, a history of a people insignificant except for the fact that God called them to Himself and made them His own. A people who began their history as slaves in Egypt, whom God freed and brought to a land He promised to give them. Remarkably, they were a people who more often than not were careless, forgetful, and unfaithful to the God who covenanted with them, Even more remarkably, they are a people who still exist even though they were destroyed as a political and religious entity by the Babylonians two and a half millennia ago. Yet, God’s people survived and returned home to the land God had given them, while Babylon disappeared as a factor in human events.

Through these centuries human voices, speaking for God, articulated God’s warnings, God’s judgments, and God’s promises. For those who had eyes to see through the centuries of political collapse and the decay of righteousness, God was present, involved, and active in history. Those with these eyes to see became a faithful remnant, a starting-over-again-people like the remnant in Noah’s ark.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, God was still on the scene, and had not forgotten His promises. A shoot did indeed come from Jesse’s stump, born to a working class family in Bethlehem, a kingly dynasty reduced to carpentry. God comes in this insignificant but messianic baby, ironically unrecognized by the people to whom a Messiah was promised but recognized by magi pagans from the east.

Despite centuries of expectation and desire, few of God’s people had eyes to see God’s salvation. What God had “prepared in the presence of all peoples,” few had eyes to see, and so God’s Son goes to his cross, “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32) . The Messianic King was indeed seen, but not for who he was. He is seen, but not seen.

Advent reminds us how easy it is to have bad eyes, and fail to see God’s light and glory in the crucified Messiah. Too often our healthy expectations give way to cultural or political expectations that render us unable to see the fulfillment of God’s promises, for God’s promises come on God’s terms, not our own. We expect a royal descendent of David, but see only a baby in a Bethlehem manger. We look right at the real fulfillment of our noblest hopes but are blind, and we go our way.

Advent also serves to remind us that God’s purposes work themselves out in terms of decades, centuries and millennia, and that to be distracted by news cycles, election cycles and instant internet information of dubious accuracy is to misuse our eyes, spiritually, so that we “see,” but don’t. God promised Israel a Messiah, but it take centuries for that promise to be fulfilled. 2 Peter gets it right: “with the Lord one day is as thousand years, and a thousand years is as one day.” (2 Peter 3:8) . We always are in a hurry. We want what we want now. Always now. We hate to wait. Yet, Advent reminds us that God’s time and our times are not the same, and in the final analysis, it is God’s time that matters, and so we come to see, slowly and at times painfully, serving and loving God entails waiting, so that in response to the question, “Where is God?”, the answer is, “Just wait.”

If we reflect a bit further, we come to see that waiting is a kind of faith. We believe, and so we wait, like passengers at a bus stop on a rainy day, believing and hoping the bus will come as promised. Advent reminds us that God’s purposes unfold over long periods of time, and that what we do in the meantime is wait and hope and love each other in anticipation.

Advent reminds us that we too, like God’s people of old, are an expectant people. The fulfillment of the Old Testament hopes and expectations created for us a new hope and a new expectation. The One who ascended into the heavens will return, someday, to earth. Advent is about this expectation too. It reminds us not only of our past history; it also reminds us that history will continue, that there’s a future we can look forward to. In the face of hydrogen bombs, bio-chemical weapons, disease, and environmental crises, Advent’s focus on the future–that there will be a future–is a great comfort. The future is Christ’s, the Divine Logos and gravitational force drawing all human history to its fulfillment in himself, whether we like it or not.

To observe Advent is to be aware of human history, but more importantly, to be aware of the real history of human history, a history of God’s activities unobserved by humanity’s political, military, intellectual and even religious elites, too busy with their own concerns to notice “little” things.

God’s little history played out in a little, weak country amid super-powers and in a crucifixion on a hill outside of a city doomed to destruction under Roman rule. It continues on, mysteriously to us, awaiting a finale at the feet of the Risen and Returning One. Advent jolts us out of our short-sighted socio-political obsessions and refocuses our attention on the big picture given us by this little history, to which our contemporary elites are oblivious. The lighting of each Advent candle reminds us that it took millennia for God to bring the Gospel to us, and that it may well be millennia before Christ’s Second Advent. Above all, the lit candles remind us that in a world that seemingly teeters weekly on the brink of chaos, God is present and at work, slowly.

Very slowly.

Waiting is the calm, patient confidence that God is present, whether we can feel His presence or not, and trusting the godly vision expressed by St. Julian of Norwich against all apparent odds: “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

And so we wait, our waiting a fearless glimmer of the true light shining in the darkness, full of grace and truth.

Comments

  1. To quote a once popular song by a recently deceased rock star, “The waiting is the hardest part….”

  2. Ronald Avra says:

    Very likely that I will be frequently found repeating myself over the next few months: Timely and helpful.

  3. Christiane says:

    ” . . . in a world that seemingly teeters weekly on the brink of chaos, God is present . . . ”

    I needed to read this today. 🙂

    A very old Christian prayer helps also, this:
    ““O Lord, make haste and illumine the night.
    Say to my soul
    that nothing happens without Your permitting it,
    and that nothing of what You permit is without comfort.
    O Jesus, Son of God,
    You Who were silent in the presence of Your accusers,
    restrain my tongue
    until I find what should say and how to say it.
    Show me the way
    and make me ready to follow it.
    It is dangerous to delay, yet perilous to go forward.
    Answer my petition and show me the way.
    I come to You as the wounded go to the physician in search of aid.
    Give peace, O Lord, to my heart. ” (Birgitta of Sweden, circa 1300’s)

  4. john barry says:

    Chaplin Mike and others, I have and am enjoying this series about Advent. It has deepened my appreciation and understanding of Advent. I consider the series a nice Christmas present I can look forward to more and look back after Christmas is done to reflect. The writings have had clarity and depth expressing the Advent meaning in a very sincere , knowledgeable way, that is a gift that I appreciate. Thanks and Merry Christmas .