Summary: Waiting is hard work, perhaps the hardest work you’ve ever done. And that is what the season of Advent is all about: waiting for the coming of the Messiah
iWitness: Zechariah and Elizabeth
Luke 1: 5-17, 39-45
Wayne Styles tells of sitting on the tollways headed into work and realizing how much he spent on tolls. That led to trying to go to work on the access roads but he discovered that just took more time. So he was going to pay with either time or money. The worst was having to stop at the stoplights and then no one comes the other way. It was almost as if the lights had been programmed against him as he hit almost every one. Here it was: 5 am, pitch black outside, no cross traffic, and the light turns red. So he stops even though no one is around. “But there has to be a reason…Because I trust God, I have to believe that waiting at the light in the dark with no other traffic serves a purpose. I can see no other reason to wait, except for this light. So I wait.” As he sits at stoplights morning after morning, he begins to note all the reasons we wait in life: stoplights, waiting rooms, suppertime, difficult meetings, grocery store lines and on and on and he begins to realize we do a lot of waiting. And then he writes, “But the most difficult kind of waiting? Waiting on God. Waiting on God usually means hanging on until he changes our circumstances- be they relational, financial, physical or even spiritual. The trouble is God seldom seems in a hurry….at all….what so ever…”
And that’s where Israel is. For 700 years, they have been occupied by foreign rulers and never knowing the freedom of living in their own land under their own rule. When the exiles returned in 535 BC, hopes were high but the Persian Empire gave way to the Greek Empire which gave way to the Roman Empire, and with each, the suffering of the Israelites only increased as did their hopes, cries and aspirations for the Messiah. This was a time of waiting and earnest yearning but God remained silent for 400 hundred years: no judges or prophets, no kings or military leaders raised up, no books of the Bible written and no answered prayers for a Messiah. One would have to begin to wonder whether God heard or a Messiah would come at all. We know what’s that like don’t we, waiting on God in so many situations: for employment, for a spouse, for retirement, for a doctor’s appointment, or results on biopsies. MRIs, a diagnosis or prognosis, for a child to come back to the faith. And through it all, your waiting has turned into more and more anxious prayers. Waiting is hard work, perhaps the hardest work you’ve ever done. And that is what the season of Advent is all about: waiting for the coming of the Messiah and as we look into the future, waiting for Christ’s return here on earth.
Doug Greenwold shared with us last Advent that if there was one lesson to describe Zechariah’s and Elizabeth’s experience of the coming of the Messiah, it’s waiting. So the first thing we learn is the waiting of Christmas. Waiting on the Lord requires patient trust. It means giving God the benefit of the doubt, trusting that God will come through and fulfill His promises. What make matters worse is that Zechariah’s name means, “Whom Jehovah remembers.” But after years of waiting for a child which hadn't come and Zechariah waiting to be picked to perform the incense offering in the Temple, you can understand Zechariah’s and Elizabeth’s questions and doubts towards God. They were faithful in every way and still they were waiting for the blessings of God promised in Zechariah’s name and the hope of every couple that they would have a child. You can imagine that they began to ask the inevitable question, “When which gave way to “Why?” even as they continued to pray for these blessings. As the years rolled by, they must have had a growing sense that God had “passed them over” or even forgotten them. How long can a soul ache for something seemingly so right before it begins to lose its grip on hope? This is not just a question for Zechariah and Elizabeth but for Israel and us. That is the pain contained in waiting.
Frederick Beuchner writes, “I think we are waiting. That is what is at the heart of it. Even when we don't know that we are waiting, I think we are waiting. Even when we can't find words for what we are waiting, I think we are waiting. An ancient Advent prayer supplies us with the words. "Give us grace that we may cast off the works of darkness and put upon us the armor of light." We who live much of the time in the darkness are waiting, not just at Advent, but at all times for the advent of light, of that ultimate light that is redemptive and terrifying at the same time. It is redemptive because it puts an end to the darkness, and that is also why it is terrifying, because for so long, for all our lives, the darkness has been home, and because to leave home is always cause for terror.” But it’s through that which the light of Christ enters and breaks through. The message for Zechariah and Elizabeth is the message for Israel and for us today: hang on, God has heard your prayers and in the coming of the Messiah has answered them. The light of the world is coming and will break through the darkness.