Handling the waiting: when God seems late

This is the first year that we’ve had a child in public school and haven’t picked when Christmas break starts. I’m itching to have all my boys home all day. (Yes, I know there will be times they drive me nuts.) I’m looking forward to breakfast in pajamas and decorating Christmas cookies and reading books on the couch. I want to not worry as much about bedtime and not wake the baby up from his nap for pick-up. It is the 17th of December and we have four more days to go. All our neighboring schools are on break now. My friends are posting pictures of Christmas break activities and exclaiming how many days of vacation they have and we’re still setting our alarm and packing snacks. We’re still waiting for Christmas break.

I’ve sat in the NICU watching neighboring families go home. I’ve searched through God’s Word, wondering why answers seemed so hard to find. I’ve spent seasons of my life waiting and I’m sure, even without asking, that you have too.

While those situations vary from person to person, there are some waiting seasons that all of God’s people experience. Waiting is part of the human story. It’s Advent season. We’re anticipating the birth of the Messiah and yet, then, the people had not heard from God for 400 years. He had made all of these promises. He promised to keep those promises in spite of the unfaithfulness of the people. And then- silence.

400 years of silence. Generations who were born and who died. Generations who heard the story of the God of Abraham. Generations who knew that rescue and redemption was promised. Generations who saw nothing happening. But God had not forgotten them.

The miracle began in the most unexpected way. An angel appeared to a young woman and told her that she would give birth to the Messiah. The fulfillment of the greatest promise was a baby? Yes, a baby growing in the womb of an unmarried woman, to be exact. God likes to upset our expectations, doesn’t He? But not just upset them; He exceeds our expectations every time.

Jesus appeared, birthed from the womb of a woman that He created. Held in her arms as they fled with Joseph to Egypt. He lived a life that was unexpected. He died a death that was unexpected, even though He tried multiple times to warn His disciples that it was coming. He rose again, unexpectedly to those same disciples who had slunk away in the night. That resurrection profoundly changed everything.

Now we are waiting again. That same Messiah, whose kingdom arrived when He did, is coming back to bring that same kingdom to total fulfillment. My heart yearns for this. All creation is groaning, anticipating this promised redemption. And yet, we are still waiting.

Two things encourage me in that waiting.

God’s faithfulness in the past

God has always been faithful. Moses told the Israelites to rehearse the stories. They were to remind themselves of the exodus and how God delivered them from the Egyptians. They were supposed to remember His faithfulness to provide them with manna, with shoes they didn’t grow out of. They were supposed to think about His presence that had guided them throughout the wilderness and the law that He had given to shape their lives for good.

I have learned how important it is for me to do this same thing. I must rehearse the faithfulness of God. I can rehearse the stories of the Bible. Advent always reminds me that the Messiah did come. God incarnate, dying on the cross, fulfilling the promise to redeem us. And if He came the first time, He will be faithful to come again.

But I also rehearse my own stories. I write down where I’ve seen God provide, where I’ve seen His faithfulness. I recount those in dark seasons when it seems like He is distant, that possibly He’s forgotten me. I listen to the stories of my friends when they talk about God moving in their lives. And I remember that while we are waiting, He is faithful.

The mission of the present

Once Jesus was resurrected from the dead, He commissioned His followers to continue His work. I am to go teaching and preaching the Word, discipling, baptizing, until the day I see Him. I am continually being reshaped into the image of God, being conformed to the image of Jesus. My brokenness will not be completely gone until I see Him, but I have stepped into God’s bigger story to redeem creation. I have been freed from darkness, rescued from my own slavery.

I’m not just marking time until I “go to heaven” My actions and my life are supposed to be part of bringing the kingdom here. God’s kingdom, taking over, shining light into the darkness. It’s not just me though. This is the church’s mission while we are waiting.

The first coming brought Immanuel, God with us. God, in perfect humanity, dying, giving us His righteousness. The second coming will bring His kingdom to culmination, crushing all enemies, and we will reign with Him.

That’s how I’m waiting. I’m trusting that God will continue to be who He has always been. (It’s a safe bet.) And with my eyes on Him and His story, I want to be bringing the kingdom with me wherever He sends me.