When I was a little kid, time seemed to go by so very slowly. Summer vacation seemed to last a year. My birthday felt like it took decades to come around. And it seemed like an eternity before Christmas day arrived.
I remember one particular Christmas when the top of my wish list was a plastic scale model of the WWII British aircraft carrier, the HMS Ark Royal. My brothers and I were World War II buffs and we all collected scale models, so this flagship would be the jewel of my little plastic fleet. (Yes, I was a bit of a weird kid.) Now, my brothers and I all had advanced espionage training in decoding Christmas presents (including shaking the box next to your ear, seeing through wrapping paper, and steaming cellophane tape), so I was convinced that the large box under the tree with my name on it was the Ark Royal. I think the month of December that year was like snails on molasses, because I remember waiting and waiting and waiting. And waiting.
When the day finally arrived, I seem to remember opening all my other gifts first. I wanted to relish the last present, the sound of that final ripping of the gift wrap being the climax of my long-awaited Christmas.
I cherished that model aircraft carrier for years. I would play with the little toy planes on deck, admire the details of the conning tower and anti-aircraft guns, make wooshing sea sounds when I pushed it along the shag carpet, and of course, battle my brother’s German battleship, the Bismarck. Good times.
If you think about it, much of the Christian experience is a period of waiting. Real Life is not made up of so many inspiring events, but more so of many ordinary and mundane moments. We wait in traffic, we wait for appointments, we wait for dinner, we wait on each other. And spiritually speaking, we wait on God, to answer our prayers, to heal our wounds, to meet us in desperate times, to inspire us in our art, to join us in times of celebration.
And this bears true in the Bible as well. Noah waited forty days in the ark while it rained. Abraham and Sarah waited for a child. Joseph waited in prison. The Israelites wandered and waited in the desert forty years. And they waited again 400 years for a Messiah. But it is not a passive waiting. One of the Old Testament words for the word “wait” is yachal. Yachal implies a waiting that is expectant or hopeful, an active and involved waiting.
So perhaps the act of waiting may be something very important to God. Indeed, the act of waiting can be a time of teaching, a time of character building, a time when God can display His quiet sovereignty over our circumstances and over our hearts. Waiting can be a time when we recognize that it is not our agenda but God’s which ultimately will prevail.
One of our traditions is to celebrate not just Christmas, but the entire Advent season. The term Advent means “coming” or “arrival” and signifies the four Sundays preceding Christmas, the traditional celebration of the birth of Jesus. A candle is lit every Sunday as a sign of worship, and the four candles on the Advent wreath surround the Christ candle, which is lit on Christmas Eve. The act of candle lighting—and the entire Advent season—is a beautiful and artistic expression of waiting in expectation of the coming of the promise, the prophecy, the Messiah.
So in a sense, waiting can be an intentional act of worship. We take the time to remember, to re-enact, and to respond to the Great Story of God become Man. We wait with expectation, with hope.
Until the Christ candle is lit, and we celebrate the Light that has come into the world.