We’re familiar with the experience of waiting: for someone, for something to happen…. Waiting changes those who wait, it is often the key to understanding, to being open to the event, to the gift…In this season we wait in hope for Christmas.
The Incarnation, if we are attentive to God in our world, it is totally overwhelming but not totally unexpected – our salvation history is full of expectation. The Incarnation shatters our pre-conceptions, which always tend to keep us in a ‘safe place’, a place where we think we’re in control. God, on the other hand, is always inviting, leading us into God-ness inviting us to join the dance which is God.
Incarnation is God engaging with people, with systems, events, history… with our little lives…In Genesis, God is actively engaged with creation – God not only likes what God has made but seems to stand back in delight: ‘…and God saw that it was good.’ In the second creation story it’s obvious that God, Adam and Eve were engaged in a loving relationship. Adam and Eve recognised the ‘sound of God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze’ [Gen 3:8] They recognised God’s footsteps!
Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham and Sarah are the people who first tentatively began to recognise ‘that creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God…’ [Rom 8: 19] their longing was not articulated but visceral – a kind of home-sickness! Moses in his encounter with God in the Burning Bush learned that he was on ‘holy ground’, that the God of Abraham and Sarah, of Isaac and Rebecca, of Jacob and Rachel, was engaging with him and inviting him to lead the Hebrews to freedom.
God is actively involved with the people: ‘I will be with you.. I will bring you up out of the misery of Egypt [to] a land flowing with milk and honey’ [Ex 3] Moses and the Hebrews were longing for an end to slavery, for a Promised Land – their freedom was expressed in journey and in a developing understanding of the Promised Land, which came to mean more to the Hebrews than the ‘earth’ beneath their feet. It meant that they were freed from slavery and chosen to be the People of the Covenant. Throughout their history their waiting, understanding and longing for the Promised Land was a kind of aching home-sickness.
By the time of Elijah, the edges of the People’s relationship with God have become blurred. (NB 1Kings 17 – 19) They have ceased to live in hope and are more interested in present advantages than in waiting and preparing for the Kingdom, for the saving presence of God. Elijah lived in a time of upheaval and loss of vision, a time when expediency both religious and political was the norm. At Elijah’s lowest point, God’s presence is revealed in tender concern for him. Elijah escapes to the ‘wilderness’ where he is rested, fed and sent on a journey to Horeb the mountain of the promise: I will be with you….[when you are free] you shall worship God on this mountain. [Ex 3 32]
Horeb is the mountain of meeting, of God present: not in the wind, the earthquake or fire but in the ‘sound of sheer silence’ when God shows God’s self in stillness and calm and holds Elijah in awesome gentleness. Elijah’s life is an example of waiting, of not necessarily understanding and of the unexpectedness of fulfilment. His life and experience of God’s presence point to the wonder of the Incarnation.
Isaiah and Zephaniah, among others, speak of the coming of a Messiah – it may be that they didn’t understand fully of what they were speaking, but they spoke with longing and trust in God Who had made a Covenant with the People. Isaiah is the prophet we read in Advent and at Christmas, a prophet who yearns for the promise to be fulfilled.
Zephaniah understood that ‘when the Lord is in your midst’ then you need ‘fear disaster no more’ that ‘when your God is in your midst…God will rejoice over you with gladness, God will renew you in love’ and God will ‘exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival.’ [Zeph.3:14 – 18] What an amazing, almost raucous picture of God rejoicing over us!
Waiting in Hope involves awareness of the past and of the promise, of the present and of preparation in hope for the future, it involves deep uncertainty…Will the waiting be ‘worthwhile’? Will the promise be fulfilled…as we expected… or differently…? Will we recognise the promise…? Those who wait need to be alert, sensitive, ready, always attentively listening…When we wait actively with open hearts and minds then we are changed by the process…In silence and hope we wait for You, Emmanuel, our God with us…..