Summary: Advent reminds us that people have always waited on God. And so will we. Why? Because waiting plays an important role in our spiritual growth.
Today is the first Sunday in the season of the Christian year called Advent. The word "Advent" simply means arrival, or coming, and so during the next four weeks we will be celebrating the arrival of Christ. During Advent, we look back at the time when God became an infant child, born in a stable in Bethlehem, the son of Mary and Joseph. Complete deity and full humanity, combined in one person, Jesus. Actually, we’re both celebrating and anticipating. Because Advent is also a time to look forward, to the second coming of Christ. That future day when those who have followed Christ will be united with Him, never again to be separated. The day when our transformation will be complete, and we will become like Christ, immortal and without sin. The day when all of our hopes and dreams will finally be realized, all of our deepest longings fulfilled. And so Advent is not only a time of remembrance, but a time of hope and promise. It reminds us that, just as the Scriptures foretold the first coming of Christ, they also proclaim that He will return a second time. And that day will be wonderful beyond imagining. In the words of Jesus himself:
"There are many rooms in my Father’s home, and I am going to prepare a place for you. If this were not so, I would tell you plainly. When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am." "Remember what I told you: I am going away, but I will come back to you again." – John 14:2-3, 28, NLT
Words cannot fully convey what will happen on that day, when God’s glory and power and holiness will be revealed. But we know that we will be radically changed. As Paul tells us,
". . . We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed-- in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. " – 1 Corinthians 15:51-53, NLT
And so that’s what we’re celebrating today. Not only the first coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ, but also his return. The two are inseparably linked, because both have the same purpose – redeeming God’s people from sin and death. And that purpose will surely be accomplished.
This morning, however, I want to focus, not on the fulfillment of God’s promises, but on the time between promise and fulfillment – otherwise known as "waiting". When you think about it, there has to be a delay between promise and fulfillment. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be a promise; there would simply be an announcement – "Here it is!" Every promise implies a fulfillment, sometime in the future. Now, we all like promises; but we don’t always like the wait. And so my goal this morning is to examine this pattern of promise and fulfillment in God’s dealings with His people, so that when we do find ourselves waiting on God, we can respond in a way that pleases Him.
The first thing to realize is that, throughout history, God’s people have spent a lot of time waiting. In fact, this is the rule rather than the exception. There is usually a gap between the time God says He will do something and the time He actually does it. For example, the first advent was prophesied by Isaiah, seven centuries before Christ’s birth.
"Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." – Isaiah 7:14, KJV
Going back even further, the arrival of Christ was predicted in ancient times by David, and by Moses. The promise of a victorious Savior even goes back to the third chapter of Genesis, when God told Adam and Eve that one of their offspring would someday "bruise the head" of the serpent, Satan. And so, from the very beginning, God’s people have looked forward with eager anticipation to the coming of the Son of God; every morning hoping that this would be the day of His arrival. Yet, the world had to wait thousands of years for Christ to be born. As the author of Hebrews reminds us:
"All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance." – Hebrews 11:13, NLT
In other words, generation after generation was born, lived, and died, each generation hoping that they would be the ones to see the arrival of the Messiah. But none of them did. Until finally, the day came when Mary and Joseph brought their newborn child into the temple in Jerusalem to dedicate him to the Lord. And when that happened, the Scriptures tell us, someone was waiting: