December is the longest month for kids. The anticipation of Christmas morning, of finally tearing into all those pretty packages under the tree has them wishing they could fast forward the days. Instead, the first thing my boys do when they come downstairs in the morning is to flip the numbered blocks on their homemade Christmas countdown calendar. Sometimes I wonder if all of our holiday traditions are just a fun way to make the waiting more bearable.
There was no countdown calendar for the first Christmas. Instead, there was hundreds of years of waiting for a Messiah to deliver the Jewish people from the oppression of Rome. That sense of expectation, of hope and longing all rolled into one must have felt agonizing at times. Not knowing how long the wait would last might have made choosing hope an act of extreme faith and courage.
And when the promise was fulfilled, it looked nothing like what they had expected. They were looking for a mighty and powerful king who would overthrow Rome on their behalf. Instead, they were given a vulnerable baby born in humble circumstances. When the angels crowded the night sky to announce Jesus’ birth, it fell upon the shepherds to tell of what they had seen – poor, dirty men on the outskirts of polite society.
Advent is a time of waiting. We wait to celebrate Jesus’ first coming and we wait for Him to come again.
We’ve all had our personal seasons of waiting as well. Right now, we eagerly await for the COVID-19 vaccine to become widely available. We turn our eyes toward 2021 with hope and eager expectation for life to return to normal. But deep down, we know that this can’t ultimately save us. It will take more than just a vaccine to heal our broken world. A return to in-person school, indoor restaurants, play dates, hugs, and even fellowship inside the walls of the church won’t fulfill us.
Waiting exposes our idols and throws a wrench into our coping mechanisms. It brings us to the end of what we can control and forces us to cry out to God. God doesn’t waste our waiting. He uses it to conform us to the image of his Son.― Betsy Childs Howard, Seasons of Waiting: Walking by Faith When Dreams Are Delayed
We are all hungry people with a craving we can’t satisfy. We open our fridge and we sample some good things. We chew on a meaningful career, a loving spouse. We taste a few children and swallow a new and bigger house. They all taste good – delicious, even – but, smacking our lips, we realize that wasn’t it. That didn’t satisfy our craving.
Jesus reminds us that we are not of the world (Jn. 17:16) and that God has set eternity in our hearts (Ecc. 3:11). Our deepest longings will only be satisfied in Him. And so, we wait. We have no countdown calendar for Jesus’ second coming. What we have in the meantime is God’s Holy Spirit with us always, the everyday gift of His presence. When the eyes of our hearts are opened, we see glimpses of God that draw us nearer to Him.
May God use our waiting and our longing to mold us more and more to be like Jesus.