by Donny Abbott on December 20, 2021
When my middle son, Owen, was about seven or eight years old I found him sitting in our living room, not really doing anything. I said, “Owen, what are you doing?"
He replied, “I’m waiting.”
"What are you waiting for?"
“Nothing," he replied, "I’m just waiting.”
Once the calendar turns from November to December, Christians around the world focus their attention on Christmas. For children especially, now is the anxious wait before Christmas. Waiting is hard, isn’t it? Patience isn’t a virtue most of us have in abundance.
One of my favorite authors, Henri Nouwen, says:
“Waiting is an awful desert between where a person is and where they want to go. And people do not like such a place. They want to get out of it by doing something.”
For adults, this “doing something,” especially at Christmas, usually involves spending money and eating food.
Waiting, however, doesn’t always mean inactivity. Waiting is usually accompanied by watching. Whenever you are waiting for something, you are typically watching for something, as well. For example, if you’re waiting on a bus to arrive, you are also watching for the bus. Or if you’re waiting to pick up your kids at school, you’re also watching for your kids.
Waiting and watching, while similar to each other to some degree, are propelled by their own separate momentums. Children can simply wait for something, anything, to come along without bearing the weight of frustration and anticipation. As adults, waiting fills us with frustration because we are impatient while watching edges us forward with anticipation for the arrival of what we're waiting for.
The problem is, we get so caught up in the waiting/watching dynamic that we often lose sight of what is actually going on around us. As this relates to Christmas, there is a buildup of frustration (waiting) and anticipation (watching) that culminates in a flurry of activity as we get closer to it. Before you know it, it's all over and what we are left with are bills and discarded toys.
About fifteen years ago I became disillusioned with the Christmas season and felt the whole message of Christ was lost. The introduction to the book titled “Watch for the Light” says:
“We sense the deeper meanings of the season but grasp at them in vain; and in the end, all the bustle leaves us frustrated and drained.”
That’s exactly how I felt in the past; frustrated and drained, I decided to make Christmas more meaningful for me. I desired something to help me Watch for God While Waiting. What I stumbled upon was this thing called Advent.
Advent is certainly not a new thing but it was new to me. Advent is a short season that traces its roots all the way back to the fourth century. The word Advent is derived from the Latin word adventus which means coming. Many of you who come from a “Higher Church” background such as Catholic or Episcopalian or Lutheran are well acquainted with celebrating Advent. Advent is to Christmas what Lent is to Easter.
The season of Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and is meant to be a time of spiritual contemplation and renewal. To celebrate Advent is essentially to celebrate two aspects of the Christian faith. One aspect is celebrating Christ’s coming as a child into the world; the First Advent. And secondly, to celebrate the fact that Christ will come again someday, which is the Second Advent. Advent then is essentially a period of expectant waiting; waiting for Christ.
What prepares us for the celebration of Jesus' first coming? This idea of waiting for the birth of Christ was an event that people had been waiting on for centuries. Beginning in the Book of Genesis there was already a foreshadowing that took place concerning the arrival of Christ.
“He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” Genesis 3:15
God, in talking to the serpent in the Garden shares the first of many prophecies telling us that the Messiah was going to arrive at some point in time. So people Watched for God While Waiting.
The prophecies concerning Christ’s coming into the world were usually placed against the backdrop of despair. God, from the beginning of time, has been working out His plan through His people, the Israelites. And as in any parent/child relationship, there would be times when the Israelites would grow impatient in their waiting for God and they would get off track. In their impatience, they would take their eyes off of God. To get them back on track, much like you and I do as parents, God would bring about discipline to the Israelites with the hope that they would turn back to Him. Typically, God would use other people groups to bring about discipline to Israel when they would get off course.
During these times of discipline, God would also send Prophets, individuals whom God chose to give a message to the Hebrew people. These messages would either be messages of condemnation or messages of hope. The messages of hope usually revolved around the fact that in the near future God would be sending a Savior, a Messiah to save His people from their wayward ways. In the book of Isaiah, we read one such prophecy:
“Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." Isaiah 9:6-7
These particular prophecies were written approximately seven hundred years before the actual birth of Christ. They were written by the prophet Isaiah who lived in Israel during a time of great oppression by a group of people called the Assyrians. Isaiah’s message in the midst of occupation and turmoil was one of hope. He was telling them that a Deliverer would be coming soon. What the people had to do was Watch for God While Waiting.
From that point, the wait was seven hundred years. During that long wait, God would provide additional clues as to who this Messiah was and where He would come from. Another notable prophecy comes out of the book of Micah:
"But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." Micah 5:2
By looking at these prophecies we can determine that the Messiah would be born of a virgin in the town of Bethlehem. A popular Pastor in the eighteen-hundreds, Phillip Brooks said,
“It was not suddenly and unannounced that Jesus came into the world. He came into a world that had been prepared for him. The whole Old Testament is the story of a special preparation…Only when all was ready, only in the fullness of His time did Jesus come.”
It is interesting that after the last of the Old Testament Prophets had spoken and the last book of the Old Testament written…God became silent. For four hundred years.
That is until a baby’s cry was heard in a stable in the small Judean town of Bethlehem. The cry of this baby was the cry of God, announcing that He is finally here.
The wait is over.
The Hope of the world had arrived.
The Messiah had come.
The message of Advent is essentially a message of hope.
A Hope that there is something better.
A Hope in a greater good.
A Hope that this can’t be all there is to life.
A Hope in something eternal.
A Hope that I will see again those who have gone before me.
A Hope that sin and pain and death are not victorious.
So, as we all embark on our wait before Christmas be mindful of God speaking through the people and circumstances around us. My hope for myself and for you is that during this season leading up to Christmas, we slow down and Watch for God While Waiting.
We hope to see you at our Christmas Eve services at either 3 of our campuses. Click below for service times and more!
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