“From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him.” Isaiah 64:4
Waiting is not something that comes easily to many people; some of us hate waiting. Yet waiting is part of life and something we do all the time. In her book Seven Sacred Pauses, Macrina Wiederkehr writes the following about waiting (page 34):
“We wait for the diagnosis after a series of medical tests, whether for ourselves or for a family member or friend. We wait for news after the surgery of a loved one. We wait for our children, and sometimes for our parents, to come home from war. We wait to hear if we got the job we applied for, or if our test scores will make it possible for us to attend the university of our choice. We wait for reconciliation and forgiveness. We wait for death. Most of us do not like to wait. There is anxiety in waiting, whether we are waiting in a supermarket line, in the doctor’s office, the I.R.S. office, at the bank, in a restaurant, at the stoplight, or any of the hundreds of places we have to wait each week. Waiting is not high on our list of priorities.” But, “There is the joyful waiting for someone dear to come for a visit, or the waiting for an important event such as a marriage or the birth of a child.”
The season of Advent, which begins on December 1, is a time of waiting, waiting for God to act, waiting for the seed of God’s Spirit to sprout and grow further in our lives, waiting with hope to celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus, who reminds us of God’s power, comfort, good news, peace, and joy.
This is the God we are waiting for in these weeks.
The prophet Isaiah expresses the longing many of us have for God to come into the world in an unmistakable way to make things better (Isaiah 64:1-4),
“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence—as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil—to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him.”
Isaiah 64 is written to people who have been waiting for God to act; who feel like God is absent in the midst of the troubles they see all around them, the heartache, hardship, financial insecurity, grief, and desolation of their daily lives.
More than 500 years before the birth of Jesus, the Jewish captives who had lived in Babylon for fifty years waiting and wondering if they would ever be allowed to return to the land of their ancestors finally were given permission to return home by Cyrus of Persia.
Their excitement about returning home was short-lived because they returned to a Jerusalem that was in ruins; the magnificent Temple built by King Solomon lay in a pile of rubble, the houses of their youth were torn down—a glorious city was no more.
The question comes to their minds: where is God in the midst of all this?
Where is God when we are in trouble?
Sure we’ve heard about what God’s done in the past, but God if we ever needed you before, we need you now and we’re just not seeing or hearing you. They were wondering if there was any hope for things getting better.
Across 2,500 years and an ocean of changes, many people today feel that way as we prepare for the season of Advent and Christmas. For many, it doesn’t feel like a time to celebrate.
Many of us will celebrate Thanksgiving the last week of November and have a nice time catching up with loved ones, eating and laughing together.
For some of us, though, the holiday is painful because our family is stressful to be with or coming apart or has come apart so the holidays mean headaches of sharing time with different family members in different places, or it can be a heart-rending reminder of what was but is no longer because of the loss of a relationship or a loved one.
And so like the Jewish people returning from one hardship to face another, we cry out to God for God to intervene, for God to act, for God to do what we cannot do alone, for God to do it regardless of our sinfulness, failure, disobedience, and weakness. Isaiah pleads on behalf of the people for God to do awesome deeds we don’t expect.
We live in a similar time in which we would like to see God act in powerful, clear and unmistakable ways.
Our task is to wait with expectancy and to act in ways that the prophets Haggai, Malachi, Jeremiah, and Isaiah tell us to, which we’ll hear about throughout the coming weeks of preparation, anticipation and waiting upon the Lord.
Grace and Peace,
Pastor Doug Scalise