I’m standing in line at Toys R Us as I write this. Trust me, I’ve got the time. It’s the Saturday before Thanksgiving, and apparently they’re giving away free money or something because every person in central Kentucky is in line in front of me. I’ve never seen this many people in the store at one time. My wife is doing the math and telling me how I messed up and picked the wrong line. Every line, of course, is moving faster than ours.
It reminds me of how much of Christmas involves waiting. Every time my daughter asks me how long until Christmas, no matter what I say, she always answers with, “that’s too long!” We actually have two advent calendars just to give us something to do while we wait.
Yes, Christmas is a waiting game. Waiting in shopping lines. Waiting in traffic. Waiting for cookies to bake. Waiting for holiday movies to come on TV. Waiting for vacation. Waiting for packages. Waiting for cards. Waiting to see Santa. Waiting for snow. Waiting to put up the tree. Waiting for family to arrive. Waiting for family to leave. Waiting to unwrap presents.
Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. We’re all waiting for something this Christmas.
If you think all this Christmas waiting is hard, just think of how long God restrained Himself by waiting. From the time when Adam and Eve turned their back on Him, He waited and waited and waited, until the perfect moment arrived, a mysterious point in history, when He would take on flesh, step into our world and restore the broken relationship with the people He had made.
First, though, He dispatched an angel with an unbelievable message for a teen-aged girl named Mary. Then Mary’s waiting began. Imagine nine of months of waiting, waiting to tell your fiancée that you’re pregnant, and by the way, it’s God’s. I bet that conversation went well. Imagine waiting for Joseph’s response, waiting for him to say something, anything, but instead he just walks away. More waiting for Mary, waiting – hoping – for God to bring Joseph back. Imagine waiting as your Creator grew inside of you – embryo, fetus, infant, God. Imagine waiting for the impossible to happen, for the One they call Almighty, who has existed for all time, to be born from your frail body.
For centuries before that first Christmas the world had been waiting on Jesus. Waiting on their only hope. There’d been rumors, of course. Prophets had spoken of a Messiah. He’d be born in Bethlehem, they said. Born of a virgin, even. And He would come to set the world free. So the people held onto the edge of their Palestinian seats and waited.
A guy name Simeon hung out in the Jewish temple and waited some more. He prayed God would keep Him alive until He saw the Savior for himself. One afternoon, Mary and Joseph walked in with an eight day-old baby, and Simeon’s waiting was over.
Christmas has always been about waiting, no, not just waiting. Anticipation. Awe-filled expectation. This holiday season we’ll all do our fair share of waiting. But will it be mundane or magical? Hectic or holy? Underneath the surface of all this shopping and shuffling lies a mind-blowing truth. No matter how many times we’ve walked away from God, He will never walk away from us. Instead, on that first Christmas in Bethlehem, He came to us, like a jealous lover pursuing a wayward wife. Why? He just couldn’t wait any longer.