As you may know, in the traditional church calendar, Advent is a time for waiting and it’s a time of preparation. Just as we begin to think about preparing for Christmas, trying to get our house in order, maybe putting up some Christmas decorations, perhaps it’s also a time for ‘spiritual house-cleaning’, of preparing our hearts to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Housework is something that can be rather challenging when you have little kids. I sometimes joke that when God was handing out housework anointings, I must have been absent that day. I have a sign up on our noticeboard at home that says ‘My house was clean last week, I’m sorry you missed it’. Because I do try, but it’s a bit like shoveling snow while it’s still snowing with children around. Thankfully God is concerned not about outward appearances. He’s more concerned about our inward house, in cleansing our hearts, and getting our lives in order, confessing our sin and and restoring our relationship with Himself and others. Obviously we can only achieve this in His strength and with His grace.
Part of this preparation or ‘spiritual house cleaning’ that we can engage in for Advent is in waiting. The ministry of waiting seems to have a prominent place in the Word of God. But many of us aren’t very good at waiting. I know that I’m not. And at this time of year we can do a lot of waiting. We wait in long shopping checkout lines when the supermarkets are crazy. We wait to find a parking spot at the shopping centre. First world frustrations I know. Kids can hardly wait for Christmas to come! And the big kids too. I must confess that our Christmas tree went up before the 1st of December, because we are going away on the before Christmas, and we wanted to be able to enjoy it just a few days early. But it doesn’t have any chocolates on the tree this year, the kids are going to have to wait til Christmas day for those as I have wisened up …two years ago they did not last long. I discovered a little boy behind the couch covered in chocolate, he had scoffed the lot. But the candy canes were quite safe, as they tasted like toothpaste!
Traditionally, Advent was a time of abstaining from public festivity in the ancient church, in order to prepare for the holy day of Christmas. The twelve days of Christmas, so called, didn’t begin till Christmas Day. Compare this with today, where in our consumeristic society Christmas decorations can be displayed in the shops before October. It’s no wonder then that children find it hard to wait for Christmas. They have to wait a long time for the day when they can open gifts that you see under the tree, if they are fortunate enough to receive gifts.
Many of you will be familiar with Dr Seuss children’s books. In his book ‘Oh the Places You’ll Go’, Dr Seuss talks about a place called ‘the waiting place’. He describes it as a useless place where people are just waiting. And sometimes in life we can find ourselves in that very waiting place. It’s hard to wait for God. We spend a big part of our lives waiting for things. But how many of you know that God’s timetable is different to ours. I’ve been told that I’m a type A personality – I must confess that I like things to be done yesterday. We are often in an incredible hurry. But God is not. We live in a microwave generation where we want instant gratification, and technology can contribute to that too. It says in the Word that God’s ways are not our ways and His timing is different to ours, it often seems slower, has anyone discovered that? But I know that we have to trust God and that His timing is actually perfect. We wait for many things –Waiting to get exam results, waiting to find a job, waiting to see if chemotherapy or radiation will work, for a marriage partner – many Christians don’t get married at 21 these days, and so we wait, and there can be a lot of pain that goes with that. I think of the song by Rebecca St James ‘Wait for Me’. Some of you are waiting for your prayers to be answered in different areas. All this waiting is difficult. But it is in the waiting that God does His mightiest work in our lives. Have you found that to be true in your life? Some people wait many years to have children, and there are examples of that in the bible, such as Elizabeth in the Advent story in Luke Chapter One. I’m praying at the moment for a friend who is a mum in waiting. But for those that are fortunate to be expecting, there’s nothing quite like waiting for the arrival of a baby. Even while the expectant mother waits, God is at work within her forming and shaping the life of that baby. Conception is the promise. Delivery and birth fulfill that promise. But between promise and fulfillment, there are months of waiting, expecting and planning, along with months of developing discomfort, uncertainty and even anxiety and apprehension. Waiting is hard. We might have ideas about what our child will be like and we try to get things ready. But when the baby comes, everything changes. It’s sort of like we thought it would be, but also very different. During Advent we get ready, we get ready to celebrate the birth of Jesus and we get ready for his coming again. Once Jesus came into the world, things were never the same again. Luke’s story of the first Advent is about two pregnant couples, two sets of parents-in-waiting.
Mary and Elizabeth were obedient to God even though it didn’t make sense. They were patient. Their story encourages us to wait for the Lord despite delay and despite difficulty. Waiting for God through difficult situations is hard, very hard. And during the time of waiting, we can lament to God. We can grow and mature during times of waiting. It’s God’s way of reaffirming our faith and our trust in Him. And a big part of our Christian walk is faith. I’ve learned to be careful of praying for patience. For patience only comes through waiting and tribulation. Think about that next time you pray to be patient! Sometimes we may feel like our life is stuck on the pause button and we may say ‘When God, when?’ Could it be that through the difficult circumstances that sometimes accompany waiting, in fact, only through those difficult circumstances, we can become the people that God wants us to be? Could it be that through waiting, we can learn to trust God more completely? Waiting has it’s rewards and it refines us. Advent also points to beyond the waiting to the receiving the fulfillment of God’s promise, and to experience God’s blessing. In the book of James it says ‘Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming.’ It is only then, that we can find joy in the waiting place.