Do you like to wait? I don’t like to wait.
Timex, the watch company, as a part of a larger market study, asked people how long they would wait in a variety of circumstances before they would take action. For example, if we’re stopped at a traffic light and the light changes from red to green, and the car ahead of us does not go: how long will we wait before we honk? 13 seconds.
We’ll wait 26 seconds in a movie theater before we turn around and tell the talking people to be quiet.
- 13 minutes for a table at a restaurant
- 20 minutes for the last person to show up for Thanksgiving dinner before we dig in.
Frankly, I think Timex was being generous. I wasn’t a part of that study. I would blow their results. 13 minutes for table at a restaurant? This is not happening. 20 minutes for the last person to show up before Thanksgiving meal that my wife lovingly prepared? No, no, no. Be lucky to have food left on the table if you show up 20 minutes late.
This is who I am. This is “carnal”, “worldly” Tim. No doubt about it. I live on the other side of “wait.” I like, “be early.” As in, if you show up early, then you’re on time. But if you just show up on time, then you’re late. And if you show up late, if you make other people wait on you, then don’t even bother.
Now, it ought to go without saying, but, since I’ve already started down this path, I’ll just keep on walking. This part of me that I’ve just described - my impatience - is, well, arrogant. It’s not a strength on my part. It’s a weakness. It’s not a virtue. It’s a flaw. It’s a bad part of who I am. I know it is. It’s not attractive. It’s pushy and it’s rude.
And, really, this impatient part of me is tailor made for the observance of Advent. Because Advent is all about waiting; all about preparing.
Go back to Scripture. Abraham, the father of the faith had to wait for Issac, the child of the Promise. Moses had to wait 40 years in the desert before he went back to Egypt. He waited 40 more years leading the people in the desert. Because of his own frustration, even then he wasn’t allowed into the Promised Land. And David … waited … for years … before he was crowned King over all Israel.
The list is long. People who waited on the purposes of God. Some people went to their graves – actually, a lot of people – still waiting for the purposes of God to come to completion.
The prophets who anticipated Christ, like Isaiah, certainly waited. But they never gave up hope. As much as they waited, and as frustrated as they might have grown over time in their waiting, they never did come to that breaking point where they said, “God, I demand you do right now whatever it is you’re going to do, and do it where I can see it and understand it. And if you don’t do that, God, now, right now, then, we’re through. I’m done with you.”
They held on. They waited.
This first week of Advent is all about waiting.
First, waiting upon God forces us to confront our own inner restlessness. Why is it; what is it about me – you may ask yourself – that balks at waiting; that resists waiting; that only feels a sense of contentment if or when events are happening? What is it about me that struggles to “be still and know that I am God,” as the Psalmist wrote.
Second, waiting can teach us a valuable lesson, if we’ll let it. What is it? I am not the center of the universe. Not all lights are green. Not all tables open up at our arrival. Not everyone can, will or should adjust themselves to my schedule. At any given moment over the next week, over 330 million Americans will neither know nor care what’s next on my calendar. What is it about me that makes me think it’s appropriate, or legitimate, to expect everyone to adjust to me?
Finally: third reflection. How can I turn waiting into hope? Into joy? I can answer with other questions.
- Do I believe God is faithful?
- Do I believe God can be trusted?
- Do I believe God’s purposes for me are for good?
It seems to me this first week of Advent can be used – if we choose to do it – as a time of personal reflection. I hope we all choose to do this.
God promised through the prophets to send a Savior, a Redeemer, the Messiah, Immanuel. All of those prophets laid down to rest never having seen the promised One. But they trusted God. They believed God. They believed God was faithful. They waited.
And Christ came.