When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
Waiting is a dirty word, at least to the ears of most Christians (in America). After all, we are a people of action. We are not comfortable to sit idly by while something could be taken care of. In the world of United Methodism, this is inherently part of our DNA as John Wesley is the one who first said, “Never leave anything till tomorrow, which you can do today. And do it as well as possible.”
It is therefore strange and uncomfortable to arrive at church during the Advent season to hear all about the virtues of waiting.
In many ways we blindly stagger toward the word of waiting with connections to waiting to open what is under the tree more than waiting on Jesus. It functions as a trite and helpful little analogy that resonates with parents and children alike. And so long as we’re all patient, we’ll get that for which we hope on Christmas morning.
But, if we’re honest with ourselves, none of us want to wait around for anything, let alone presents, the birth of the Savior, or his promised return.
Which makes us, oddly enough, a lot like John the Baptist.
Listen – John is arrested for his various proclamations and acts against the powers and principalities. He “prepared the way of the Lord” out in the wilderness, but then, while behind closed doors, he begins to question his preparations. He sends word by way of his own disciples, “Hey JC, are you really the one? Or are we still in the waiting game?”
Isn’t it odd that John begins to doubt? Surely, the words and deeds of Jesus would be enough to assuage his fear. But, perhaps, Jesus wasn’t the Messiah John was looking for. Even John had his own earthly expectations for what the Anointed One was supposed to do: overthrow the empire.
Except, when Jesus came to live, die, and live again, he did overthrow the empire; the empire of sin and death.
During Advent we straddle the already but not yet. We see signs of God’s kingdom at work but we also know that not all is as it should be. Therefore, our reluctance to wait is born out of our desire to take matters into our own hands even though some of the most horrific events in history have been done in the name of progress.
We no longer know how to wait. We want to skip to Easter Sunday without having to confront Good Friday and we want Christmas without Advent. And yet all of them, both the comfortable and the uncomfortable, point us to something beyond ourselves: The judged judge has come to be judged in our place. Jesus’ crucifixion, made possible by his incarnation, has accomplished that for which it was purposed.
My former professor Stanley Hauerwas puts it this way: “Jesus’ crucifixion rattled the very constitution of the universe because death could not hold him. Three days later he is raised. He walks with two former followers on the road to Emmaus, teaching them how to read Scripture. Such instruction was required, because they found it difficult to understand how the one to liberate Israel could end up on a cross.”
Today, it seems we are (still) a people who find it difficult to believe that God would choose to die for us. We’d rather hear about all the things we can do to earn God’s favor than to believe that God favors us regardless of our behavior.
We are not particularly good at waiting because we want to take matters into our own hands. And yet part of the message of Advent is that if it were all up to us, we would fail. We need a Savior who can come and do for us what we could not do for ourselves. In the end the only thing we have to do is wait, because the rest is up to God.