Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Long Wait - Advent Meditation

(This is part of a set of daily Advent meditations I'll be posting. They're going up a day early so that you can use them, if you wish, for private reflection in this season of anticipation and preparation.)

“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts. Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
-Malachi 4:1-6

I hate waiting. Just ask my wife. I fidget at stoplights. I tap my fingers as I wait for a meal to come. I avoid long lines like a dieter avoids Krispy Kreme shops. This impatience, which I readily acknowledge is sinful, is frustrating enough in the little waitings I confront daily. In the face of the big waitings of life – for a job, for a diagnosis, for bad news – I am almost undone.

These are the last words of the last prophet of the Old Testament. He is writing after the partial restoration of Israel – Jerusalem has been resettled and the temple rebuilt. Yet the restoration is very much partial. God's people are still under the thumb of foreign empires, a far cry from the glory they once possessed and even further from the world-spanning influence God's promises envisioned.

Malachi writes to Israel and promises that full restoration and even completion will come. They will come with one that the Lord will send, one who is tied to the coming of the Lord Himself. “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.” (Malachi 3:1)

We see familiar Messianic themes in this last chapter of Malachi. God's coming salvation. Judgment on the wicked oppressors. Hope and restoration for God's people. The “sun of righteousness” rising with “healing in its wings.” God speaks through this prophet, a final note in a symphony of divine triumph...

And then four centuries of silence.

God is still at work, of course. Much happens in Israel's history – empires fall and rise, there are heroes and villains and struggles and successes – but this Messianic expectation lies dormant. The sun stays beyond the grey horizon.

“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise,” the apostle Peter tells us (2 Peter 2:9a). Yet at the same time he cautions, “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” (1 Peter 2:8)

Christianity is a religion of waiting. Certainly, lots of things have happened. Christ has come and died and risen. The message of His resurrection, witnesses by a handful of tremulous disciples, has now spread to the nations. Lots of things are happening right now. The Spirit is moving. The church is being built. Sinners are becoming saints. Jesus is overcoming the darkness. But none of these things are the fulfillment of our hopes. That awaits a day still to come.

When we talk about faith, we often give it an intellectual cast. It is about evidence and belief and invisible realities. When Scripture speaks of it, though, it is inextricably tied up with waiting. Faith is a confidence in things unseen not in the sense of “unprovable” but in the sense of “still to come.” The sun will shine forth one day, and then we will walk by sight. In this age, though, we are still waiting.

That is what Advent is all about. We look back to those awaiting the Christ, and we see that hope fulfilled. We see God come into this world. That is good news in itself, but it is also a call for us to wait like they did. To walk in faith and longing, looking forward to the day when all these promises come gloriously true. When the Lord fully returns to His people, and all that is evil is burned away, and we can walk in the healing of His day.

This Advent moon shines cold and clear,
  These Advent nights are long;
Our lamps have burned year after year,
  And still their flame is strong.
"Watchman, what of the night?" we cry,
  Heart-sick with hope deferred:
"No speaking signs are in the sky,"
  Is still the watchman's word...

One to another hear them speak,
  The patient virgins wise:
"Surely He is not far to seek,"--
  "All night we watch and rise."
"The days are evil looking back,
  The coming days are dim;
Yet count we not His promise slack,
  But watch and wait for Him."...

We weep because the night is long,
  We laugh, for day shall rise,
We sing a slow contented song
  And knock at Paradise.
Weeping we hold Him fast Who wept
  For us,--we hold Him fast;
And will not let Him go except
  He bless us first or last.

Weeping we hold Him fast to-night;
  We will not let Him go
Till daybreak smite our wearied sight,
  And summer smite the snow:
Then figs shall bud, and dove with dove
  Shall coo the livelong day;
Then He shall say, "Arise, My love,
  My fair one, come away."

-Christina Rosetti, Advent

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