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Is God waiting for us this Advent?

Rev. Dr. Debora Jackson

December 10, 2018

I have always loved the season of Advent. There is something special and particularly holy about this season of waiting. After all, to wait is a time-honored practice of faith and is commended by the Bible. “If we wait on the Lord and remain courageous, God will strengthen our hearts” says the writer of the 27th Psalm. Moreover, we know that “those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31 NRSV). That is the promise of the prophet in the 40th chapter of Isaiah. So for me, this idea of waiting for the second coming of our Lord and Savior feels like a faithful act of a grateful people.

Yet Advent also commemorates the breaking of God’s silence. For a 400-year period, spanning from the prophecies of Malachi until the coming of John the Baptist, God revealed no new prophetic word to God’s people. That silence was broken only through the prophetic voice of John the Baptist, as he proclaimed the advent of God’s son. Certainly, during the 400-year intertestamental period, the life and faithful acts of God’s people were documented, having been recorded in the apocryphal or deuterocanonical books written during this time. However, while these books were viewed as historically valuable, their absence of new prophetic revelation contributed to the belief that God was silent. But why was God silent? Was it a test of fidelity for God’s people? Was it punishment for humanity’s disobedience to the law? Given that one thousand years is like a day in the Lord’s sight, was it just a brief pause?

Presently in this age of grace, I would maintain that God is not silent. Nevertheless, we are still waiting, waiting for the coming of Christ. Some would argue that this time of waiting is evidence of grace. God in God’s graciousness is providing the time and space for humanity to be redeemed and reconciled that no one would be lost. But I wonder whether God is waiting not only for our reconciliation, but also for us to speak.

A recent New York Times article by Jonathan Merritt highlighted that it is getting harder for people to talk about God. The article noted that although more than 70% of Americans identify as Christians, they do not feel comfortable speaking about faith. Anecdotally, I could have predicted the truth of the article’s supposition, not requiring statistical proof that a mere seven percent of Americans talk about spiritual matters regularly, with that number rising only to 13% for practicing Christians. But that was not the most shocking revelation of the article. By researching the Google Ngram corpus, an online search engine that charts the frequency of words found in sources printed between 1500 and 2008, the article reported that basic moral and religious words are falling out of use. And these are not merely theologically weighty words either. Morally virtuous words, some of which we know as the fruit of the spirit—love, patience, gentleness, and kindness—are the words that have become rare in our verbal lexicon. We do not speak about humility or modesty. Additionally, words that express compassion and gratitude are falling out of use.

With this realization, it occurred to me that maybe God is waiting for us to speak and express our voices of love. We seem to be able to speak ill-will against those who believe differently, look differently, or love differently than we do. Our political climate reinforces daily that people brazenly use their words to misrepresent truth. Saddest of all, we know how to express hatred and anger given the shocking statistic of 307 mass shootings in 2018. But where has our capacity to speak words of compassion gone? What about our ability to express our love for humanity? Why have we lost our voice where faith is concerned? If Advent is a season of expectation, maybe God is expecting us to speak words of peace, hope, joy, and love to one another.

If Advent is a season of expectation, maybe God is expecting us to speak words of peace, hope, joy, and love to one another.

In that spirit as we await patiently for Christ’s second coming, what if we decided not to keep God waiting any longer? What if we extended ourselves in empathetic ways to someone in need, voicing the love that God extends to us? What if we took the time to tell those around us that we love and appreciate them, expressing gratitude for their influence in our lives? And what if we told someone about a Savior who loved us so much that even while we were in our sin, he died that we might have eternal life?

God, in God’s graciousness, has given us this time. So, in this season of Advent, even as we are filled with the expectation of the coming of our Lord, let’s not lose another minute of waiting. Let us use this gracious time to speak and share our love with one another.

The Rev. Dr. Debora Jackson is director of Lifelong Learning at Yale Divinity School. Her book “Spiritual Practices for Effective Leadership: 7Rs of SANCTUARY for Pastors” is available through Judson Press.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

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