Advent is a season of waiting. A time to recall how long the children of God did not know the answers to the prophecies. To consider how discouraged we get with waiting and how faithlessly impatient. Children understand waiting for Christmas. They are often obsessed with what they will get when on Christmas morning they rush to the tree to see what Santa or parents have left them. They understand anticipation and they live in a state of expectation.
As a believer I too often mimic the antagonist in Malachi 3:14 - "You have said, 'It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the LORD Almighty? 15 But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly the evildoers prosper, and even those who challenge God escape.' " I don't live in a state of expectation but one of discouragement and disappointment. I understand the negativity shown by the Israelites. They had been awaiting a savior for a millenia and still they were oppressed and in bondage. Those who were righteous were outcast and those who sought their own good were exalted. Believing in justice must have seemed about as sensible for them as believing in Santa Claus is to adults. Sure, we would LIKE there to be a jolly old man who delivers our heart's desire once a year. We would like to be Virginia and believe there really is a Santa. We want to find, like George Bailey, that our lives really are wonderful and purposeful and precious. However, reality swoops in to remind us that there is no such person to 'fix' all our problems, we don't meet Clarences running around to remind us about angels and purpose and thankfulness. We come, as adults, to recognize there is no savior to deliver us from our oppressions.
The Israelites must have felt the same thing but so much more strongly. They had built their lives, their past-glories, their system of laws, their menus, their houses on the idea that following God's law would give them all their heart's desires. Their inability to abide by that law, to overcome their humaness led to constant oppression, enslavement, exile. Those who followed the law were lumped with those who didn't and continued obedience seemed guaranteed to reap more disappointment.
My heart aches for those faithful few who clung fast to their beliefs - those who wrote the scroll and pressed on towards the end of the waiting.
16 Then those who feared the LORD talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored his name.
17 "They will be mine," says the LORD Almighty, "in the day when I make up my treasured possession. [a] I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him. 18 And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.
They would wait 400 years more through the Greek Empire, the conquests of Julius Caesar and into the Pax Romana before there was an inkling of fulfillment, and when it did come, it came not as a mighty warrior but as a small baby in a time when Herod was bitterly jealous and killing children who would rival his throne. In a time when the Roman government demanded that Caesar be recognized as the god-head of the empire and the political organization of Judea was changing through deposement and reassignment.
What seems important to me is that God was answering their prayers in a way far different than what they expected and 30 years before the slightest idea of a following was existant. A child is hardly an answer to centuries of injustice. A child doesn't make oppression cease. A child doesn't re-establish a kingdom, fill an old throne or promise justice and righteousness from that time forth and forever more. When God did fulfill his promise and a messiah was born, he looked nothing like a messiah. More waiting. The child would have to grow into a man.
Christ began his ministry at 30 years of age. He was a political dissident, questioned the religious authorities, and was alternately hated and adored by the fickle following drawn to spectacular stories and revolutionary teachings. The disciples did not get it at all. They were still looking for a warrior messiah, but this man rode into Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey. He stood before Pilate with neither bravado nor beligerance. He stopped Peter from physically protecting him when he was arrested. He was beaten beyond recognition and led to the cross without complaint. Like a lamb before the slaughter he was quiet and helpless. He died. This was the end to the waiting?
Three days the disciples cowered in fear, scurrying from place to place during the end of passover. Hiding in upper rooms with closed doors. The man who had taught to turn the other cheek had given up and what had turning the other cheek left them? Rending unto Caesar what was Caesar's, loving their enemies, living in humility - these had profited them no more than their ancestors in Malachi. The wicked prospered now more than ever. What now? More waiting?
A crowded room, a doubting Thomas. A reappearance. A risen Christ. Does this mean the end of the waiting? Many people saw Christ after his resurrection. More miracles. Then he left. The disciples almost to a person, church legend tells us, were slaughtered for their belief. The Roman empire sacked Jerusalem and burned it. The Israelites were physically exiled for another 1,879 years. Still, the nation waits for its warrior king.
At what point did the waiting end? We know that Christ's birth heralded the new kingdom. We know that His death fulfilled prophecy. We know that his resurrection sealed the new convenant that promised hope and deliverance to all who believe. But we, like children after all presents are unwrapped on Christmas morning, live in a state of disappointed expectation. The anticipation is no longer exciting, but wearying. We resign ourselves to wait until the emotion is renewed during the next Christmas season. But the truth is that regardless of our emotions or anticipations, the waiting IS over.
The waiting is over, and it has just begun. Where are our eyes? Like the faithless in Malachi do we live doubting the promise of justice. Are we discouraged as we plod through day after day of corruption? Are we the faithful few that write on the scroll of remembrance and hold fast to His return?
"Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire," says the LORD Almighty. "Not a root or a branch will be left to them. But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall. Then you will trample down the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I do these things," says the LORD Almighty.
"Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.
"See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse."
We live knowing that the waiting is over, and so we wait.
He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true."
He said to me: "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son." Rev. 21:5-7