Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Waiting

But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years (Luke 1:7).

Elizabeth told her husband to stand still while she looked him over, making sure his robe was falling just right and that nothing had foiled her efforts to send him to his temple duty spotless. Of course, he would wash again before performing the sacred ritual. He would put on other priestly garments. Elizabeth knew this, but her attentions were an act of love, an expression of how proud she was of Zechariah. She wouldn’t let him out of the house until she felt sure that he looked just right.

Zechariah was one of thousands of priests in Israel. The priesthood was in his blood, literally. Being a priest was something you were born into, a privilege bestowed by genealogy. Elizabeth herself belonged to a priestly family. The task of offering incense was assigned by lot. You couldn’t apply for it. Seniority among the priests meant nothing. It was entirely in God’s hands. Once a priest had served in this role he could not do so again.

Zechariah had been waiting for this day his whole life.

Elizabeth herself was no stranger to waiting. The wedding celebration had hardly ended before the comments and questions began to come from well meaning friends. Always good natured and accompanied by winks and giggles, relatives and neighbors knew that soon children would come. It was an expectation that Elizabeth herself had carried in her heart since she was very young. But the months became years and the young couple showed no promise of becoming a threesome. The winks and giggles stopped, giving way to compassionate smiles that Elizabeth despised.

The years became decades and waiting became resignation. Eventually resignation settled into reproach. A shame borne quietly. Elizabeth reached old age childless.

We’re all waiting for something. The nature of our waiting changes over a lifetime. We wait for love, wait for a break, wait for the promotion, wait for the test results, wait for the next available customer service representative.

Maybe we’ve waited and received only to find that waiting is hard wired into our souls. We need something to look forward to, something to anticipate. We love the waiting, and we hate it too. Sometimes the waiting chisels away at our sense of self, it erodes our faith.

There is an art to waiting. It isn’t passive and weak. Somehow our waiting needs to be watched with vigilance or it becomes distorted.

If you’re waiting on the man or woman who will make you happy, the job that will finally give you security, the break that will establish your name, then the waiting can crush you. But to wait on the Lord is a different kind of thing. As Isaiah said, those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength (Isaiah 40:31).

Zechariah waited to be chosen for a job – and was stunned when he encountered an angel of the Lord. Elizabeth’s waiting became her disgrace, until the Lord took her disgrace away. Advent reminds us that we wait on God, not something God can give.

What are you waiting on today? Is this waiting wearing you out or lifting you up?

One of my fears, O Lord, is that my waiting is a waste of time. I wonder when you’ll show up, or if you ever will. Help me to wait only on you – not on something I’m hoping you’ll give to me. You alone are our hope. Renew my strength as I wait on you in this season of Advent. Amen.

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