Glenda Simpkins Hoffman
When I was a child, my mother spent Advent decorating the house, baking cookies, and doing a myriad of other things to get ready for Christmas. Each night at before dinner, we would light the Advent candles, read devotions, and pray. Then we would open the windows on an Advent calendar and enjoy some chocolate. We were counting down the days and waiting for Christmas.
My siblings and I would beg our mother to let us open one present before Christmas, but she never relented. It was a bit frustrating at the time, but now I see the wisdom in it. While most of our culture begins celebrating Christmas by Thanksgiving (if not sooner), Advent is the season for waiting for and anticipating the coming of the Lord. Even that discipline of not opening presents was a kind of wait training for us as children.
In high school, our coach gave each of the team members a small gift at Christmas. Mine was a plaque that said, “Lord, grant me patience, but hurry.” We all laughed at the time because it was funny and reflected the truth. I am not by nature a patient person. I don’t know what I did with that plaque, but at some point I got rid of it because it wasn’t funny anymore. Patience is a fruit of the Spirit, and I knew I needed that in my life.
I think many of us in the West struggle with impatience because we live in an instant-gratification world. Information is found and purchases can be made by a simple click on the computer. Fast food can be easily acquired at a drive-through or even cooked in minutes in the microwave or an Instant Pot. Having to wait in line at a grocery store or in traffic is frustrating. Why? Because we are impatient people.
But what we need to understand is that the primary way we learn patience is through wait training. Perhaps that is why there are so many passages in the Bible on this very topic. Here are just a few examples:
“Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him” (Isaiah 30:18).
“those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).
“For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:24-25).
“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Psalm 27:14).
Here are three passages that tell us how to wait patiently:
“For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God” (Psalm 62: 5-7).
“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (or wait) (Exodus 14:14).
“Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer” (Romans 12:12).
During Advent and leading up to Christmas, we read Gospel texts that reflect the ways that God’s people were waiting before the birth of Christ. Israel had lived for four hundred years without a word from the Lord. They were often living under the oppression of foreign powers. They were waiting for God’s Messiah to come and restore the nation of Israel (Matthew 1:1-17).
The Gospel of Luke opens with the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah, a couple who had waited and waited to have a child. They had to let go of their time table to participate in what God was doing (Luke 1:5-25).
Mary had to let go of control. She chose the way of surrender saying, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:26-38). And I think of the shock and disappointment of Joseph and then his obedience to let go of his expectations in order to do as God commanded allowing space and time for God’s will to unfold in Mary’s womb, their family life, and in the world (Matthew 1:18-25).
We find comfort in these stories, but they were hard times for these faithful saints who were living under the oppression of the Roman Empire and whose personal lives were rocked by news of what God was going to do. But they trusted that God was sovereign and was working out his will in and through them for their good and the good of the whole world in his time.
As an impatient person by nature, I have not enjoyed waiting. But I have done a lot of it in my life as I’ve shared before. I have waited for the pain of grief to heal, for a job offer, for the right man to marry, and for my longing for children to finally be fulfilled through adoption.
The last few months have been another season of waiting—for my husband Stuart especially but for all of our family after learning he had a brain tumor. There was a lot of waiting to get an appointment with a doctor, waiting to get a call back from a nurse, waiting for the results from tests, waiting for surgery to be scheduled, waiting to hear how the surgery went, waiting for a diagnosis, waiting to see how well he would recover from the diminishment that occurred from the surgery, waiting to hear what the treatment plan would be.
During this Advent season, what we are waiting for most is for healing from cancer and restoration to health. It’s a process that involves a lot of waiting. But waiting doesn’t mean doing nothing. Stuart has had to rearrange his life and give himself over to a process of healing. He has to show up to appointments, heed the direction of doctors and therapists, surrender to radiation and immunotherapy infusions, and participate in daily exercises.
We are grateful for medical science and the wonderful people who have come along to assist him. And we are grateful for all that Stuart can do to participate with God in what he ultimately can do to bring healing. But this is a season of wait training. We wait for the Lord.
In some ways, each one of us is waiting for something in our personal lives. Right now we are all waiting for a vaccine, the transition of a new administration, the reopening of schools. And we as a congregation are waiting for the opportunity to gather again in our church, and we are waiting for a pastoral transition to happen. The pastoral nominating committee has been working diligently for 18 months, and now Pete’s retirement is imminent—the end of February. This will be his last Advent and Christmas as the senior pastor of Vienna Presbyterian Church. We are waiting on the Lord to lead us through what is ahead.
How are you engaging in wait training this Advent season? Everyday life presents us with all kinds of opportunities to wait in a grocery store line, in traffic, for a new job, for the next pay check, for the news we have been hoping for or dreading. Parents do a lot of waiting with their children—for them to learn to speak, read, and write; to be accepted to a college; to find a new job.
Waiting is not only a place in our spiritual journey but a practice we can choose. I hope this Advent we will all choose to see our circumstances as opportunities to intentionally engage in wait training as we look to the Lord, let go of what we can’t control, and let God do what only he can do in and through and for us by his grace and power. Consider meditating on and perhaps even memorizing the verses above and allow them to lead you to prayer. This can be a way we wait for the Lord, trusting him to cultivate the patience and perseverance we all need.