Teaching an Impatient People to Wait

Each year I notice that retailers bring out the Christmas decorations a bit earlier. This year I was struck by how the red, green and gold ornaments of Christmas were bumping into the pumpkins, gourds and Halloween costumes. It is a common refrain in our contemporary culture, but one that bears repeating: modern Americans do not like to wait. From fast food to instant cash, we want what we want and we want it now. And, each liturgical year, Advent circles round and, as a DRE, I wonder how in the world do I teach an impatient people to wait?

Luke’s Gospel has much to teach us about waiting. After the prologue, the author of Luke begins with the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, a righteous and faith-filled couple in the eyes of God. But Zechariah and Elizabeth had a problem -- they were unable to conceive a child and were past the age of normal conception. Luke says that “Elizabeth was barren and advanced in years.” How long did the couple wait for a child? How painful to be a childless woman in the ancient world when children defined the whole of a woman’s worth. How embarrassing for Zechariah to be of the priestly class and not produce an heir. How they must’ve suffered!

It is to this couple that the angel Gabriel brings the good news that they will conceive a son, even in their old age, and he will be a great prophet named John. Elizabeth rejoices in this news and says, “So has the Lord done for me at a time when he has seen fit …” Elizabeth knows that we cannot plan for the mystery of new life, we can only wait and receive it graciously.

While the conception and birth of John the Baptist is momentous, Luke’s gospel reminds us that it cannot compare to the good news of the conception and birth of Jesus. When Mary visits her relative, Elizabeth, John leaps in Elizabeth’s womb and rejoices at the presence of Christ. Elizabeth is the first person in Luke’s gospel to refer to Jesus as “Lord” and she continues to glorify God in her blessing of Mary, the mother of God.

Neither Elizabeth nor Mary knew what was in the store for them as they waited in longing for the fulfillment of God’s word. But still they waited in anticipation for the good news to be realized. Each Advent we, like Mary and Elizabeth before us, wait in anticipation for the Christ child to be born into this world, for the peace of Christ to reign, and for God to come down and dwell among us. This time cannot be rushed or organized or planned away. New life in Christ comes in God’s time, we can only wait and receive it graciously.