Waiting. We’re not very good at that anymore. Maybe we never were. But in this instant-everything modern age, we get frustrated if we have to wait for any length of time. Just the other day, I complained to my wife about a package I’d ordered from Amazon that hadn’t arrived yet. After all, it had been three whole days. And, according to a recent New York Times article, “People will visit a Web site less often if it is slower than a close competitor by more than 250 milliseconds.” That’s .25 seconds. Way too long for any sane person to wait.
Waiting feels like time wasted. And who can afford to waste time these days? We have too much to do. Every second counts.
But the advent season is all about waiting. During advent, we’re reminded of all those centuries when God’s people awaited the fulfillment of God’s promises, the years of uncertainty, the time of doubt. This side of Christmas, it’s easy to think that this season is all about arrival, the birth of Jesus. And that’s partly true. The story does find its fitting climax in the coming of the Messiah. But let’s not forget the waiting that preceded Christ’s advent, the waiting that marked the time before Christmas, the waiting that God forced his people to endure.
Maybe a little waiting is a good thing. I know that’s a heretical thought for some of us, but bear with me. Here are five things that I think we can get from waiting. They probably won’t help much the next time that you’re stuck in a traffic jam on your way to an important event, but I still think they’re worth reflecting on.
1. Waiting reminds us that we are not the center of the universe.
It’s so easy to get caught up in our own plans, convinced that everything we do is absolutely, crucially important. That’s part of what makes waiting so frustrating, and so valuable. Being forced to wait gives us the opportunity to remember that other people have plans and priorities as well. We are not the focal point of the universe. That doesn’t make our plans unimportant, but it does put them in perspective.
2. Waiting reminds us that God is in control.
At the very least, waiting forces us to realize that we are not in control. And that can be a valuable opportunity to reflect on who is.
3. Waiting reminds us that life is a gift.
Forced to sit at a stop light for several precious minutes, I have a choice. I can choose to grumble and gripe about the loss of my precious time, or I can remember that those very minutes were a gift God gave me so that I might have the opportunity to live for his glory. Sure, this wasn’t how I’d planned to use them. But that doesn’t change the gift.
4. Waiting reminds us that the present matters.
Sometimes I think waiting frustrates us because we’re too future-oriented, always focused on what comes next. But what about now? Next is in God’s hands. Now is what we have. Done well, being forced to wait can be like watching a particularly spectacular movie scene in slow motion. You know the movie will continue playing at regular speed soon, but for now you’re just enjoying what’s on the screen.
5. Waiting reminds us that the future is bigger than we think.
Sometimes I think waiting frustrates us because we’re not future-oriented enough. We try not to think about it much, but I think we all have a sense of our own mortality, and it seeps out when we’re forced to wait. We have a finite amount of time, why waste any of it waiting for things to happen? But, of course, our time isn’t really finite. We’re destined for eternity. That doesn’t mean we can get complacent with the time we have now, but waiting can remind us that this life is part of something much larger. In the light of eternity, is a two-minute wait at the grocery store really that onerous?
I think the advent season is a great opportunity to think differently about time. God made his people wait for centuries before he fulfilled his promises to them in sending the Messiah. And we’ve waited many more centuries since for the final fulfillment of God’s redemptive promises in the second advent of Messiah and the full realization of His Kingdom.
Why all the waiting? I can’t answer that question for sure. (I tend to be very careful answering “Why?” questions when it comes to God.) At the very least, though, the waiting reminds us that this is God’s story, his plan, and his promises. He is in control, and he will take this story wherever he pleases. And it reminds us, slaps us in the face at times, that we’re not the center of the story. It’s not about us, and things don’t always (often!) go the way we’d like. Finally, all the waiting helps us think differently about both the present and the future: valuing the present as a gift, cherishing the future as our ultimate hope.
Will that change the way you feel as you burn through forty-five minutes waiting for the doctor to call you in for your appointment? I don’t know. It might, or it might not. But maybe it will give you the chance to view that time differently.
About Marc Cortez
Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.