If someone told me at the end of March that we’d be in lockdown for upwards of nine months, I would not have handled that well. Each month, I felt a small flame of hope that maybe, just maybe, in the next few months things could go back to normal. Having that flame snuffed out at the outset would have been devastating.
Now I’m keeping that flame going during the cold, dark winter of quarantine. We’re waiting for the day when we can hug friends without reservation and safely gather in class without masks. And it’s draining. Lighting the candles of the advent wreath, representing the hope, peace, love, and joy of the season, feels difficult this year.
Two thousand years ago, the Jewish people were waiting for a break in the silence from God. It had been 400 years since the last prophet spoke. And they didn’t know how much longer it would be or what God’s message would be when he did finally speak again.
In a “hospital room” where the curtains were stall doors, and oxen were the attending nurses, the Savior shattered that 400-year-long silence with a cry.
And So We Wait
The Israelites have a long history of waiting on God. They waited in captivity in Egypt for 430 years and waited another 40 in the desert. They made it to their promised land but then were exiled to Babylon for 70 years due to disobedience. During this particular exile, we see the Jewish people crying out to God in the book of Lamentations. The book closes with:
Why do you always forget us?
Why do you forsake us so long?
Restore us to yourself, LORD, that we may return;
renew our days as of old (Lam 5:20–21)
Generations of Jewish families lived during the in-between, middling stage of miracles. As they yearned to return home, people died and couldn’t be properly laid to rest in family burial plots. Children were born and grew up without meeting family who had been left behind. They lamented and longed for the Lord to intervene.
The Christmas story is so familiar that the pauses in between divine intervention get lost in the fast-paced narrative. Jesus could have manifested on Earth in any way, but he chose to wait nine months to come as a baby. Bearing the life-altering importance of a new covenant, the Lord of the universe chose to wait.
And throughout the nativity narrative and Jesus’ life, waiting continued to be a recurring theme:
The Magi tracking the star across the heavens could have stayed where they were, but they decided to journey to an uncertain destination to meet the king of the Jews. Even though they couldn’t immediately arrive, they still prepared thoughtful gifts in anticipation. While we wait for relief from both COVID-19 and the greater pandemic of a broken world, we can still worship the King of kings and prepare our hearts for his return.
Jesus lived as a refugee in Egypt for the first few years of his life, running away from the death threats of a jealous king. He knows what it’s like to not have a place to call home and to fear being discovered. The Messiah and his family must have longed to return home safely where Gabriel’s words could be fulfilled:
He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end! (Lk 1:32–33)
When we’re anxiously waiting for something painful to be over and don’t feel at home, we can know that our God hears our cries. We won’t live in Egypt indefinitely. We can fix our eyes on our Deliverer.
I imagine Mary and Joseph waiting with bated breath throughout Jesus’ childhood to see when he would fulfill the prophecies. They still had to wait 30 years for his ministry to begin and for Gabriel’s words to Mary to come true. So, too, we can be confident that the good the Lord has promised will come to pass—in his timing.
The people in the Christmas story waited, and at the perfect time, God showed up. We can wait as well, knowing that this time of longing is not spent in vain.
At the time of Jesus’ birth, most of Israel was waiting for a conquering Messiah to overthrow the oppressive Roman occupation. It’s a blessing that Jesus didn’t wait until they adjusted their expectations; otherwise, we still might be waiting for his birth.
Who would have expected a baby? Anticipated a child who taught the teachers at the temple? Awaited a man who dined with the unclean and preached truth and grace with such love?
This, this is Christ the King.
Right now, we are corporately waiting. We’re waiting for this pandemic to be over. We’re also waiting to celebrate the birth of our Savior. As we live in the in-between, we can lament. We can cry out. But ultimately, we can wait with hope as we fix our eyes on Jesus.
I’m reminded of the lyrics from “O Holy Night” this season:
The thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Our world is weary this Christmas. Whether you’re exhausted from online classes or miss seeing your friends in person, we have reason to rejoice this advent season. We can experience the love, joy, peace, and hope of this time of year because Immanuel, God with us, waits with us. Let this Christmas season be sweet as you celebrate his glorious arrival!
As I accepted my diploma, a chunk of my identity flaked off: “student.” I’d worked hard and anticipated the day when I wouldn’t have this label anymore. But as I entered the new year as a graduate, I felt untethered.