Waiting. It’s one of the most challenging aspects of life. No matter how fast-paced our society becomes, we still must wait. Recently I waited in a plane on the tarmac in New York City, wondering if my flight was going to make it out before a storm. The machines de-iced the plane, and we took off before things got bad. But before that, I was waiting, along with everyone else.
We wait in doctors’ offices for test results, hoping and praying for good news, dreading the bad news. We wait for our prayers to be answered, and for our relatives to put their faith in Christ. We wait for the job offer, the offer of marriage, or the birth of our child.
As the people of God, we look around at the dysfunction in Washington and at the injustices that roil our country. We sigh because of the sin around the world, and in the heart of the person looking back at us in the mirror. And we wait. We wait for resolution. We wait for the world to be made right again. Often times, it seems like we’re waiting all alone in the dark.
Advent and Waiting
Ironically, that’s what the season of Advent is all about. Advent is the time of year, just before Christmas, when the Church remembers what it’s like to wait for the arrival of Jesus. The nation of Israel waited for hundreds of years, longing for her promised Messiah. Mary waited nine months, waiting in awe for the birth of the God-child within her womb. All of history’s pent up hopes and fears, frustrations and longings come to a head with the arrival of Jesus. But before that, humanity waited.
In Acts chapter one, we discover that the Church is waiting yet again. After the resurrection, the disciples asked Jesus if this was the moment they’d all been waiting for (Acts 1:6). I can imagine that the excitement surged and pulsed through that band of fishermen and tax-collectors. After all these years, and after the ultimate climax of the cross, Jesus emerged from the tomb. Surely now, he would setup his promised kingdom?
Jesus surprised his first followers by deflecting the question: “It is not for you to know times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.” (Acts 1:7). Instead, he predicted that the early Christians would bear witness to his lordship, beginning in Jerusalem and going forth to the “end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Then, without further ado, he ascended into heaven.
The disciples no doubt scratched their heads in confusion as they watched him go. They probably squinted into the sun and wondered what was supposed to happen next. Then two angels appeared, not really clearing up much of the confusion, and said, “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you have seen him going into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
They might not have understood everything all at once, but surely the puzzle pieces began to fall into place. The first Christians once again began waiting for the second advent of the Messiah, just as the Israelites had done for so many years prior. This time, the period of waiting would be characterized by a clear mission. Jesus predicted that his followers would bear witness to his lordship until he came again. He declared that they would go with the gospel to the edge of the map. In the book of Acts, we discover that’s just what they did. And it’s that same story that’s been unfolding now for over 2,000 years.
This Advent, we wait once again. We build towards the climax of Christmas, until the moment we celebrate the incarnation of God the Son. But for right now, we wait. It’s fitting that we wait, because waiting is central to our calling as the people of God, the people who live in “the time between the times.”
As we wait for the second coming of Christ, let’s refocus ourselves on our mission to bear witness to the lordship of Christ. It’s not just for professional missionaries, pastors, and theologians. The mission of proclaiming the gospel while we wait is the mission of every Christian.
Recovering Focus on the Mission
Here are three simple ideas to help you recover your focus on your mission as a Christian this Advent:
Connect with a missionary. Send them a card or a gift. Call them on Christmas day to say you love them. Pray for missionaries on Christmas. They are bearing witness to Jesus in this time of waiting, and you can be a part of their ministry!
Share the story of Jesus. Advent reminds us that the mission belongs to every Christian. We all wait for Jesus to come back, and we all share in the responsibility to spread the gospel while we wait. So, pray for God to give you opportunities to share the story of Jesus with a friend, colleague or family member. Don’t feel like you have to be an expert; just share what Jesus has done to save you!
Pray with the second advent in mind. The last prayer of the Bible is “Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20). What a prayer to lead our families to pray as we gather around trees and open presents. We are a people who wait, but we wait with an eye upon the eastern sky, because Jesus will surely come, just as he did before.
For many, Christmas can be a season of sadness, brought on by memories of absent loved ones, family conflicts, or looming uncertainties. Sometimes it seems that we just crescendo through Advent, reach Christmas, snuff out the candles, and then wait in the dark as a new year dawns. But advent reminds us that we are not alone in the dark. We are waiting, like Israel once did. We are waiting, like the apostles and like every other generation of Christians since then. But we are not alone in the dark. The Holy Spirit waits with us for the glorious second advent, when Emmanuel will once again walk the earth with his people. Until then, our mission is to bear faithful witness to Jesus, even and especially in the dark. “Come, Lord Jesus.”