I have a confession to make. One of the things that I often struggle with is patience. I imagine that this is also true for many of you. You’ve probably heard the suggestion that if you want God to truly develop your faith and increase your maturity you should ask him to give you more patience because, inevitably, you’ll be put in a situation that truly tests your desire for that kind of growth. But what makes being patient so difficult? What drives the desire to get whatever it is that we want right now without having to go through the painful, although typically much less so than we would like to admit, process of waiting? I would like to submit that a feeling of anticipation is what drives those moments of desire for instant gratification. Anticipation in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I anticipated going to college and being on my own for the first time. I anticipated going overseas and seeing how life is done in other parts of the world. I anticipated the birth of my first niece and becoming her godfather. I eagerly looked forward to all of these events knowing that they would have a profound impact on my life. The danger comes when we allow anticipation to turn into anxiety.
In Genesis 3 God promises a remedy for the problem of sin that had entered the world by telling the serpent, “I will make you and your brood enemies of the woman and all her children; The woman’s child will stomp your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15, The Voice) At that moment humanity’s anticipation began. From Ararat to Ur then on to Egypt and finally resting in Canaan the hope that everything would eventually be set right provided comfort in times of distress. The kingdom of David and Solomon was vast and powerful but even its glories could not compare to what was to come. Whenever Israel fell away, a common theme throughout the Old Testament, they were reminded that all was not lost. God would “preserve a remnant of the people of Israel and of Judah” (Isaiah 65:9, NLT) out of which would come their Messiah. But after surviving in a foreign land, returning from exile and rebuilding their home God was silent for 400 years. For many Jews anticipation became anxiety. This anxiety then became doubt and that ended with a dismissal of everything that God had ever said or done for his people. While the Jews struggled to preserve their way of life God was still moving. Even though they couldn’t see it he was putting things in place that would be needed to deliver on a promise that was made many years before.
For those of us living between Christ’s first and second comings there is a similar dynamic. The tension between the idea that his kingdom has already arrived but isn’t fully realized on earth creates anticipation that is often hard to bear. The groaning of creation, including our very souls, reminds us that this is not our home (Romans 8:22-24a). In the midst of what feels like deafening silence his promises still ring true. This was true in the years leading up to that glorious night in Bethlehem and it’s true now. Our hope isn’t misplaced. One day Christ will return, and our greatest joy will become reality.