It was an interesting thing to flow straight from Thanksgiving into the first Sunday of advent this year. I know Thanksgiving as a holiday is a creation of our secular history, not the church, but I find its timing appropriate. Maybe I’ve never seen it as closely linked as this year, when the seasons practically overlapped. When, still full from turkey and giving thanks, all of a sudden we were at church and lighting the first advent candle. The candle of hope. It seems appropriate, in an intentional season of waiting, to begin with hope. And it seems appropriate, though I never thought of it before, to give thanks for it. To give thanks for the reminders of waiting.
Isn’t it interesting that the church purposefully spends four weeks every year intentionally waiting for one day? Intentionally focusing, in what can easily become the busiest and most harried time of year, on the stillness that waiting requires? I know there’s so many reasons for the waiting: It teaches us dependence. It helps us remember the greater community of saints who lived and died in their waiting. Even the length of the waiting gives testimony to the worth of that which we are waiting for. But maybe another reason for advent is a reminder that much more of the Christian life is characterized by waiting than by fulfillment. To wait, to desire and be unfulfilled, is one of the most counter-cultural things asked of us in this world. It cannot be achieved, in cannot be won, it cannot even be affected by our actions. It can simply be done well or done poorly. Either way, we wait.
Now, in this season, the waiting has an end. Christmas will come. Christ came, and he will come again. Not everything we long for in life, though, is so assured. We’re actually assured of very little about this life in Scripture, at least practically speaking. But we are assured, we are promised, that He will withhold no good thing from us (Psalm 84:11). We are promised that he satisfies the desires of every living thing (Psalm 145:16). We are promised that those who fear him will want for nothing (Psalm 34:9). This isn’t a prosperity gospel that promises a fulfillment outside of what we’re experiencing, it’s a calling to, within our present circumstances, redefine our definition of good. Maybe part of fearing him means recognizing what IS as good. Maybe part of fearing him means having enough awe in the fact that he can hold the desires of every living thing and fulfill them in perfect goodness, to submit to His wisdom in doing so. Maybe part of fearing him is trusting His patience, and even His pleasure, in my continual asking for that which I am not guaranteed, but for which my soul longs. Maybe fearing him means not fearing the answer. Not fearing my own weakness in asking.
Can I go here for a minute? I keep being brought to its edge, so can I just briefly dip my toes into the massive ocean of this topic? Though neither the thoughts nor the conversations are new, it does seem like they have been coming in greater frequency recently: conversations about singleness, and the waiting inherent in it. This is by no means the only area in which we wait, but it is maybe one of very few I can speak into with any right. It is one which, perhaps more than some others, can tend toward distraction, all-consumingness, and dissatisfaction. And it is one that is, I fear, losing its beauty and its dependence and its brokenness. But that is a further discussion for another time…
A friend and I were talking about waiting for marriage, however, and she shared with me one of the most beautiful words I have heard spoken about this season. She received it as a reminder from another, and passed it on to me:
There is a wedding feast coming.
That’s what we’re waiting for. And on that day, it won’t matter whether I ever saw its shadow here on earth. Marriage is undoubtedly a beautiful thing, but it’s beautiful because it’s a means for holiness. It’s beautiful because the Lord says “this is the person with whom you are better together than you can be apart.” Not easier, not more efficient, not less messy, but better.
But until the Lord says that, in whatever area of waiting we find ourselves, every day he says that THIS is better. Not just good, but better. Every day. Every day we continue to wait for marriage, or a child, He says, this is better. Every day we continue to wait for a job, He says, this is better. Every day we feel like we’re spinning our wheels toward countless dreams unfulfilled, He says, this is better. Every day we continue to wait for Him to come, to make all things right…even then He says, for now, for today, this is better. It is better to wait, so wait well, my child. You have no idea what I have for you.
Do I fear Him enough to believe that? I mean, really believe? Because if I do, it is the source of my endless thanksgiving and my endless hope. It grants grace to my past, purpose to my present, hope to my future. It draws the focus away from me and my desire, or even my need, to where it must be: in the only One who could possibly make the audaciously bold promise that whatever and wherever and however exactly I find myself right now, it is better than any other possible lofty dream of my sin-weighted heart.
By the grace of God, I am not what I was.
But nor am I yet what I will be.
That is reason enough to keep me waiting for a lifetime.