The people of Israel stood facing the Jordan as the spies they had sent into Canaan returned. After a long winding road through the wilderness, they stood on the edge of the Promised Land. But the spies brought a bad report, and the good words of Joshua and Caleb could not comfort the people. They rebelled, and God was angry with them, and they wandered in the desert for 40 years while the rebellious generation died. Moses, who had taken the people out of Egypt, would enact his own rebellion against the Lord, and he too would never see the Promised Land.
And though Joshua would enter that land, Hebrews tells us that this would not be the true rest of God (Heb 4:8). Another rest was promised. The people of God had to wait for his coming, a coming that would bring both deliverance and judgement.
The people of Israel knew that their God would be faithful, that he would save them from their enemies. They heard the cries of their prophets declaring his return. Yet, for centuries they face exile, alien occupation, false messiahs and false prophets.
And the Lord did not come.
Until he did. In secret, in a small, backwater of the greatest empire the world has ever known. And for a time this change went unnoticed.
We are now in Advent, a time of waiting. We wait for Christmas, for the birth of the Messiah, and for his coming again to deliver us once and for all.
In the traditions of the Christian Church, Advent is a penitential season. Like Lent, it is a time of fasting, of mourning. For reasons of family and cultural tradition, I must confess that I don’t practice Advent as a penitential season, but this year, I do find something about the older tradition compelling.
Perhaps it has been my growing awareness of the undeniable social and racial inequality that exists in my nation. Perhaps it has been the hard lot of so many friends struggling with everything from sin to mental illness.
Perhaps it has been my own disappointment at hopes unfulfilled and at the struggle to remain faithful to God in my time of aching expectation. Of late, God has been reminding me of his faithfulness, of his eternal, unchanging character with which he cares for his people. Yet this promise does not come without fear and trembling, for the day of the Lord is coming when “for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings,” but “all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the Lord” (Malachi 4:1-2). Can I be faithful to him as my heart aches with longing?
I know that he is faithful, I know that he shall fulfill his promises, but I cry with the Psalmist “How long, O Lord?” (Psalm 13:1).
Yet, this season of waiting with longing expectation gives me comfort. It stirs in me the reminders of God’s faithfulness, of his call for my faithfulness, and of his Spirit who enables me to be faithful. So much in our world is unfulfilled, but he is coming again to make all things new (Revelation 21:5).
So let us hope, and pray, for his swift return, and, as we wait, let us be faithful to his call, carrying out his mission of shalom within our world.
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