Monday, December 03, 2007

Reflection for Advent (2): Joyful Waiting

There are few memories from childhood that rival, in suspenseful recollection, those of anticipating the future. When I was about five years old, waiting to (joy of all joys!) go to a birthday party, Mom and Dad said that I needed to wait in their bedroom for ten minutes. At age five, ten minutes is half of an eternity. I distinctly remember spending those six hundred seconds on the edge of my parent's bed counting to sixty - ten times.

Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appears

When I was slightly older and I could scheme with my younger siblings, we tried to fight, in unison, against the angst of waiting. One day, Isaac, Nate and I found ourselves at the barns waiting for Farmer Henry to join us and give us work and company. Sorry for ourselves that we had waited fifteen minutes, we thought that we should give him a call. However, we were worried that if we went to call him, he might come while we were gone. We decided that one of us should stay at the barn, while another would go to call, and the last would stay in the middle of the stayer and the caller, so as to be within shouting distance of both in case the old red Ford truck was spotted with Henry inside. Crazy!

Oh, come, our Wisdom from on high,
Who ordered all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.

When I was eleven, I remember waiting seven long months for what I wanted more than anything...another baby sister. What heartfelt prayers I offered for a safe delivery and healthy baby! Since I was invited to be at the birth, I was on edge for about a month surrounding the due date. One day, while wading with Isaac in the stream between the diversion ditch and alfalfa fields, I heard a fog horn blow from the direction of our house. I ran home so swiftly only to find the matter for the horn blowing inconsequential. But, how great was my joy, when eight days after her due date, Mom woke me in the middle of the night to leave for the hospital. When I finally held Rebecca, the happiness in my heart was akin to none that I had previously known. What we wait for, in its fulfillment, we treasure.

Oh, come, our Dayspring from on high,
And cheer us by your drawing nigh,
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death's dark shadows put to flight.

My current season of life teaches me more about waiting than I ever thought possible to learn. Thankfully, I have at least gotten to the point of understanding that sitting on my bed and counting is not a redemptive way to wait. Waiting is redeemed when joy is present. "Rejoice in hope." These words direct my life.

Oh, come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Oh, bid our sad divisions cease,
And be yourself our King of Peace.

Interestingly, the prophet Zechariah (500 BC) began the theme of joyful waiting with a very old-fashioned advent greeting, "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey."

Hopefully I will not have to wait for anything for five hundred years. Yet even with five hundred years to wait for the Messianic fulfillment of Zechariah's prophecy, the people of Israel are told: "Rejoice!"

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel

Why did Israel need to wait so long for her Messiah? I have no theological treatise in response, but I do know that anything that I have ever waited for I have treasured - be it a birthday party, Henry's old red truck finally pulling into Bentley Lane or a little baby sister. And, just perhaps, our world needed to wait for her Messiah, so that when He came, we would value him rightly. What we wait for, we cherish.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel

And so the words waiting and cherish encapsulate all that I love about advent. As we wait to once again celebrate the birth of Our Lord, we enter into the travail of longing that makes waiting so difficult, so that once more, our hearts are trained to love, adore and cherish Messiah, Jesus the Christ.