In the church, the Advent season has always been a time of waiting. On the Church calendar, Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas. So, we wait. That is countercultural. Society does not wait.
Walmart doesn’t wait. They are plugging Christmas before the Thanksgiving turkey has been carved – or butchered, for that matter. The radio stations don’t wait. They begin playing Christmas music in November. The retailers don’t wait. Black Friday sales start weeks before Black Friday. The economists don’t wait. They’re publishing the Christmas economic outlook before Advent begins. If Mary had been like us, she would have delivered Jesus a month before arriving in Bethlehem—and that would have messed everything up.
We are not good at waiting, but God is. If we are going to get along with him, we must learn his ways. This is not because God is pokey but because we are his people, under his direction, like an orchestra under its conductor. It is (this is Colossians 3:12) “as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved” – because we are his people – that we “put on … patience.”
Still, a year is a long time to wait for the end of the pandemic and four weeks seems a long time to wait for Christmas. But consider how long God waited for Christmas. He began his Advent preparations thousands of years before Bethlehem’s silent night.
In the rubble of the Fall, a ray of light already beamed. Even before the curse fell on the man and woman, God spoke a word of hope: The serpent will bruise the heal of the woman’s offspring, but he will crush its head. Evil will not and cannot remain forever.
St. Paul says that God announced the good news in advance to Abraham that he would bless all the nations of the earth. Think about how long in advance that announcement was made: 2,000 years. God is not in a hurry.
To David, a millennium before Christ, God made a promise: his descendant, God’s king, would rule forever. From Isaiah, hundreds of years before the angel’s announcement in the skies of Bethlehem, the joyous gospel rang out: “Your God reigns. Your God returns. Your God redeems.”
Consider what this means. The patient God, the waiting God, the timely God was making preparations for millennia. I mentioned those preparations in the lives of Abraham, David, and Isaiah, but there were many others: Daniel, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah, and finally Malachi, who wrote the words we read earlier 400 years before Christ. God did not rush. He had no fears. His timing was perfect.
I have a favorite recording of the Beethoven Sonata Pathetique (or Sonata No. 8) played by my favorite Beethoven interpreter, Alfred Brendel. I listened to a different recording a while back and was left with the impression that the pianist was on amphetamines. Her dexterity was impressive. She played so quickly that her hands must have been a blur above the keyboard. But where was the feeling, the passion, the character of the piece? Brendel can also play with incredible speed when that is called for; but it is not always called for.
God’s timing is even better than Alfred Brendel’s. He doesn’t just hit all the right keys; he hits them in perfect time, sometimes with incredible speed. “In its time,” he says, “I will do this swiftly” (Isaiah 60:22), even in the blink of an eye. But God never gets ahead of himself. He is the master of timing. He doesn’t rush.
Christmas is the great example. St. Paul could say that it was “when the time had fully come” – not a moment before, not a moment later – that “God sent forth His Son…” (Galatians 4:4). God’s timing will likewise be perfect in the final movement of this great piece he is playing. Gentle and strong, slow and fast, adagio and allegro –even prestissimo. I expect there will be times when his hands will be a blur above the surface of the earth.