Each night in the month of December leading up to Christmas, my family would gather at the table for advent. Mum or dad would light one of the candles, then read part of the Christmas story from the Bible. Then, we’d pick a couple Christmas carols to sing together, mostly off-key, before taking turns to blow out the candle. It was a time of waiting, preparing, getting ready for the great celebrations that would come Christmas Eve night with the last night of advent, then stockings and one little gift to be followed by the opening of presents on Christmas morning, then a delicious late lunch.
I must admit that, as a child, most of my anticipation was looking forward to opening presents and spending time together as a family. Much of the magic of this season came from the twinkling lights, the beautiful tree, the repeated traditions, the sentimental decorations. Waiting was difficult, yet exciting, I didn’t mind this particular waiting – a practice of delayed gratification and the building up of expectations.
There is beauty in the waiting of advent season. Israel knew a Messiah was to come, but they waited for decades, centuries. Zechariah waited for Christ’s birth before he could speak again. Elizabeth and Mary waited to meet their sons, to see what God’s miracle meant. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, we remember and honor this waiting for a savior, for the promised hope. We feel a tiny piece of what those before us felt, and we can’t help but ache for the waiting we now experience before Christ’s return to us, or before we meet him after death.
Over the past 15 years of my life, I’ve had moments (or even years) where I felt like I was stuck, just waiting for my future to happen. Waiting to see where I would end up, what job I’d have, what ministry I’d take part in. Even more so, waiting to see if I would marry, if I’d have children. Waiting. Not knowing if it would happen or not. Not being able to plan for the future without actually have two plans: If I get married then I’ll do this . . . if not, I’ll do this other thing.
I was taught to wait to have sex, wait to give my heart away, wait to have children, wait on God’s plans for my life to reveal themselves; wait, wait, wait. Yet here I am, celibate, single, with no children and no assurances of what exactly God wants to do with my future. This type of waiting wore me down, and my anxiety about the future increased. Waiting can be good, but we are often taught to wait for the wrong things and in the wrong way.
There is a deep beauty in the waiting, but only if we wait for the right things, and wait well.
Single Christians are often raised with the expectation that God will indeed bring us a spouse and maybe some children, if we just wait on his time. Fathers pray with their daughters for their future husbands. Mothers raise their sons to be good husbands. Parents raise their children to be excellent parents someday. Youth pastors encourage teens not to hang out with the opposite sex unless they are “ready” (by their own subjective standard) to seek a potential marriage partner. Churches preach at singles to be celibate until they get married, then they are suddenly expected to have the Best Sex Life Ever with their spouse.
Women who struggle to get pregnant are prayed over and told to wait on God’s time. For those of us who never get the spouse, never get the kids, we can become bitter and confused. After all, we waited! We did what we were supposed to do. Yet the expected result never came. So at this point, why bother with the waiting?
Much of Israel must’ve felt this way when Christ came. After all, they waited for centuries! They tried to follow the rules, and yet the military leader they expected to come crush Rome never appeared. To many, the Messiah or savior still hasn’t come. They are still waiting, to the point where some believe it’s actually now just more of a tradition than a reality; they don’t believe it’ll ever actually happen because it didn’t happen the way they wanted it to.
I’ve had to go through my expectations and remove the ones that aren’t actually promised in Scripture. I’ve had to realign my expectations, to reevaluate what it is I’m actually waiting for. Because if we’re waiting for something that’s not even promised, we are bound to be disappointed. However, waiting for something that is guaranteed? Something that is promised by someone who never breaks their promises? This is worth the wait.
I can wait on the Lord, on his justice and mercy and goodness. I can wait on the promises that he is working in my life, and that one day I will be united with him. I can wait on the guarantee of an eternal life without pain, with all beauty and truth, in community with the one who knows me and loves me better than anyone else. I can wait on an eternity with the truest of all loves.
Our waiting can look like little kids in the weeks before Christmas who get more and more hyper and excited, with increasing expectations. They are bound to crash on Christmas day, and be disappointed when they finally get what they have waiting for so long. Or we are like the children who get more and more grumpy, rebellious, bitter, and impatient because Christmas can’t come quickly enough for us.
Instead, I’m learning to dwell in the waiting with joy, to seek out the beauty of God with me now – not just at some time in the future, to walk day by day knowing my own plans might not come to fruition, but God’s plan is still moving forward and it is better.
So this advent season, I encourage you to douse yourself in the waiting. Just make sure you’re waiting for the right things in the right way.
Here are a few things that are helping me wait this advent season:
- “Waiting Songs” by Rain for Roots (hey, I’m an elementary librarian, I’m allowed to listen to children’s music!)
- My church is going through “Unwrapping the Names of Jesus” by Asheritah Ciuciu along with a Scripture reading schedule.
- I was introduced to “Light Upon Light” by Sarah Arthur at English L’Abri, so got my own copy and have been letting it feed my literary soul.