If there is anything we don’t like to do in America, it’s to wait.
My vocation depends upon this cultural identidy. I am a UPS driver and I can guarantee that people do not like to wait. This is especially true during the Christmas Season, or what we call “Peak”.
There’s plenty of evidence, other than my anecdotal, that we have become an impatient bunch.
Go to Disney and one of the best investments you can make is a pass that takes you to the front of every line.
Go to YouTube and the first place we move our cursor is over the “skip” button.
Go to the doctor and they post how quickly they “move” their patients from the waiting room to the examination room.
We don’t like to wait.
It’s a little dated, but an old favorite song of mine is by Faith Hill and is called “The Secret of Life”. The song is a conversation between two bar buddies about the so-called secret of life. Near the end the bartender answers “The secret of life is gettin’ up early. The secret of life is stayin’ up late. The secret of life is tryin’ not to hurry, but don’t wait. Don’t wait.”
It is ingrained in us. There is nothing worth waiting on and even more importantly, waiting is a waste of time.
American culture is essentially about production. We produce goods and services efficiently and by that we mean quickly.
UPS moves at the speed of business.
Amazon Prime is free, two day shipping.
Christmas is advertised at Halloween and Thanksgiving is the necessary pit stop in the middle.
Black Friday…Oh how I loathe Black Friday.
It used to be that the Friday after Thanksgiving was a family day. Those who had traveled to eat together, be thankful, and visit relatives, took one more day to enjoy each other’s company, hunt together, or eat leftovers while playing games, etc.
Now it is a Friday that actually begins late Thursday, as a competition about who can be first to get the Christmas stuff that they are afraid to wait on!
Ironically, this hurry up and shop holiday begins with massive lines that progress into fights over merchandise. This celebration of American values follows Thanksgiving, another uniquely American holiday instituted to cause Americans to pause long enough to give thanks for all God has given us…
There is a holiday of sorts that follows Thanksgiving. Even more ironic I suppose is that it is a period dedicated to waiting.
It’s called Advent.
Advent is something relatively new to me. I have recently become Presbyterian after becoming reformed a few years ago. None of my former churches, which were not reformed, celebrated Advent. So, I was and remain pretty unfamiliar with Advent, but I’m learning.
Advent capitalizes on the idea that through the Covenants of God, the people of God knew that they were waiting on God to provide a Savior, the promised One of Genesis 3:15, the True and Better Ark, the Descendent of Abraham, the Seed of David. God’s promise was guaranteed in the signs he had given, they believed him, and they waited on the Lord.
Waiting in this sense is good. Waiting on the good gifts of God, especially his Son brings us to a wonderful attribute of patiently waiting. That attribute is anticipation.
Anticipation can be good or bad. It can lead to excitement or worry. Do you remember what it was like when you were a kid though? Christmas was awesome, not because it came quickly but because you waited on it, sometimes all year.
Why is this important?
I believe waiting brings back some of the joy to Christmas that some of us lose in all of the hustle. This is because waiting is intrinsic to this particular holiday.
I’ve already mentioned those who covenanted with God who waited all of their lives to see those promises fulfilled. To be honest, sometimes trying to gain the perspective of those Old Testament waiters is fairly ambiguous. They waited their whole life and continued in faith. Really, how can we even come close to that?
I’d like you to consider two other people though, two people who waited but their faith became their sight. These two people had all of the covenants and the expectations that came with them. But on top of that, they had their own personal promises from God.
Simeon is probably my favorite character in the birth narrative of Christ. The climax of his story is usually the focus but it is the waiting that makes the climax so great.
Simeon was patient. He waited a long time to see the promised Savior. Day after day he probably went to the Temple and was disappointed at the end of the day. The next day would come and he would go back to the Temple. Simeon was actively waiting.
Finally, the day came. He heard the cry of a promise. He held the weight of a tiny fulfillment. It wasn’t only the beginning of the life of Christ; it was the end of a long wait.
Mary’s wait wasn’t near as long, but to her it probably seemed like an eternity. Nine months after the visit from the angel some time after her visit with Elizabeth, Mary delivered what she waited for. Her wait grew inside her. Yet she had to go through days of sickness and embarrassment. One day, in a little shepherd town, her wait came to an end.
Both of these stories are pieces of the beginning of a greater story, the story of Christmas, the birth of Jesus.
Neither of these stories would be as grand nor their climax as definitive if it wasn’t for the wait.
Can you imagine the anticipation of Mary as her day approached? Can you imagine the nervous expectation of Simeon as he grew near his own death without seeing the Messiah as it turned into uncontainable joy when he hears the baby?
It was the slow and patient wait that made the birth of Christ so grand for Simeon and Mary. Maybe something we’ve lost that should add to the joy of Christmas is the wait.
We already know that being in a hurry causes us to miss many of the little things that make life so good. Flying to Christmas without taking the time to wait has the same result, take my word for it.
If you don’t attend a church that celebrates Advent, or if you just never take the time to wait because shopping, cooking, or even giving take priority; consider Mary and Simeon. Think about how much better the day may be when it finally arrives if you only take the time to wait.
Anticipate Christmas. Be excited. Wait. Good things may come to you.