What is the joy of waiting? We have all experienced how waiting and anticipation heightens the joy of consummation. The first example that comes to mind is the birth of a child. If babies came right after conception, the new life might bring more shock and fear than joy in the moment. Perhaps God’s gift to us is time — time to tell everyone our good news, time to paint a room and buy things, time to prepare ourselves for this new life. Instantaneous birth would rob us of the joy of waiting, but with nine months to prepare and imagine, the birthday comes as a glorious celebration!
An example of this from Scripture is Adam’s first reaction to Eve. Adam lived alone for some amount of time; he worked naming the animals and stewarding the garden. Yet, we read he had no suitable helper, and it was “not good.” Day-after-day Adam was faced with the reality that he was alone. Not without company, but without companionship. Thus, when Adam first laid eyes on Eve, he broke out into song: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of man.” (Genesis 2:23)
Adam, I’m sure, would have been glad to have Eve from day one. But the waiting, the unnamed longing for someone with flesh and bone like his, brought about a joy he could not have otherwise known.
There is in all of us a deep sense of longing that has to do with incompleteness — embryonic aspirations, parts of us that remain unknown, an ever-increasing awareness of our broken world. We may be redeemed and joyful in Christ, but we know there is more — that we were made for another world. Lingering in our souls is the eerie memory of Eden and the mystery of kingdom come.
Pregnancy strikes me as one of the few things that we are required to wait for anymore. In fact, almost every occasion of waiting is now largely seen as an imposition. It’s not that life stops during pregnancy. We still have all the usual things to do. But the growing belly is a constant reminder of what is to come. There is nothing we can do to hasten it or prolong it. We can only prepare and wait. This is the kind of longing Paul speaks of:
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Romans 8:22-25)
Advent makes us wait and take note that this is how God chose to come into our world. Not in a flash from the sky, but as a seed in the womb of a woman. After thousands of years, the Messiah finally comes, and then there is waiting. For Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah, it was a blessed time … time to take it all in, time to prepare and dream wild dreams, time to break out in song!
The waiting of Advent makes the Joy of Christmas morning more palpable.