Wait for It!
Luke 24: 44-49
October 16, 2022
Once upon a time there was a TV commercial for ketchup which featured various people waiting for the ketchup to slowly pour out of the bottle, while Carly Simon’s “Anticipation” played in the background. The unspoken message was that some things are worth waiting for. Generally speaking, however, that is not a message which we readily embrace. Often we seem to want it all and we want it now.
This is true not only for life in general, but also for our lives of faith. There are times when we find ourselves praying something akin to the old joke, “Lord, give me patience, and give it to me right now.” So perhaps it is worth paying attention, at least occasionally, to one of the themes which runs through scripture – anticipation. We may want everything to happen quickly, but there is considerable evidence in scripture that God’s watch runs at a different speed. The Israelites spent forty years in the wilderness before finally being led into the Promised Land. The coming of God’s messiah was dreamed of by the prophets centuries before Jesus’ birth. The gift of God’s Spirit was spoken of by the prophet Joel long before the day of Pentecost. As much as we might wish for instant gratification, there seems to be an important place in our lives for patience. Some things really are worth waiting for.
So it is that we find Jesus preparing the disciples for his departure with a promise of what is yet to come. “I am sending upon you what God promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49) The disciples are assured that this promise of power is coming. In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells them that he will not leave them orphaned. But for all the assurance of what is to come, this power from God does not become instantly and fully manifest in their lives. They have to wait for it. They have to anticipate it.
And I believe that the waiting is actually a part of the gift. Why didn’t the Israelites go straight from Egypt to the Promised Land? Why did it take so long for the promises of a messiah and God’s Spirit to be fulfilled? Why do we still not get everything we want precisely when we want it? There are several reasons, actually. For one thing, we often aren’t ready to receive a gift right away. We think we are, of course, but we’re really not. The Israelites spent forty years in the wilderness because that is how long it took to raise up a new generation who weren’t completely immersed in the mentality of slavery. That is how long it took to give the phrase “but we’ve always done it that way” a chance to die. Sometimes it just takes time for us to grow into the possibilities that God has in store for us. If we get it all too quickly we human beings seem to have an amazing capacity for messing things up.
Another reason why patience really can be a virtue is that it helps us avoid the trap of thinking we did it all by ourselves and on our own. When things come too quickly and too easily, we are sometimes tempted to believe that it was all our own doing. It is one thing to have self-confidence. It is quite another to have an over-inflated sense of self-reliance. When we have to wait for something it gives us the opportunity to remember that we are not in this life alone. It is a collaborative effort, involving all those with whom we share life, as well as with the God of all creation.
And remembering that we are not in it alone is closely related to yet another reason why waiting can be important – learning to trust in God’s faithfulness. Just because something doesn’t happen immediately doesn’t mean it isn’t going to happen. We sometimes have the tendency to blame God as soon as our own timetable isn’t met. “It didn’t happen the way I expected it to or wanted it to, so therefore God has abandoned me.” However, if we begin with confidence in God’s ultimate faithfulness, then waiting simply becomes an opportunity to anticipate the marvelous and surprising ways in which God will respond in the future. Throughout scripture we find examples where hope in God’s future help is supported by remembering God’s past faithfulness.
Yet another reason to celebrate patience is for the simple joy of appreciating the moment when that which has been anticipated does become reality. I know people who have spent their whole lives being handed everything they could possibly want before they even knew they might want it. The result is often that they have no real appreciation for what they have. On the other hand, when we wait expectantly for something, we are more likely to have a genuine appreciation when it arrives.
The disciples were promised power for their living. And eventually they got it. But they spent some time anticipating it first. We too are promised rich, abundant living, with the power of God’s presence infusing our lives. But it often doesn’t come in the ways we expect, nor on the timetable we might prefer. Like the disciples, we are frequently faced with the challenge of waiting for the promises of God. We can respond with impatience and frustration and doubt. Or we can respond with patience and anticipation and trust. God’s promises will be fulfilled in either case, but how we wait for them will make a difference in the quality of our living. The choice is ours. May we be found expectantly faithful.