That’s the question we ask when we are waiting for something. For anything.
In Luke 2.21-35, Simeon is waiting for God to comfort Israel – because God’s people are sick from head to toe, because the world is not the way it’s supposed to be. And God grants him a preview of his great rescue work. But even as Simeon exults over the child Jesus, God’s appointed rescuer, dark words proceed from his Spirit-infused mouth. They speak of offence, stumbling, falling (Isa 8.14-15), opposition, and a sword that will also pierce Mary’s heart.
Mary will feel that pain as she watches her own child abused and rejected by the people he had come to rescue. She would see her son murdered by a conspiracy of the leaders of sick-Israel and idolatrous-Gentiles. That apparent defeat was turned into victory at Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. But his ascension means his physical presence is no longer on earth. That must hurt, but Mary’s consolation is that Jesus is coming again. She waits.
As Pastor Dev tells us, all the saints have their lives shaped by this posture of waiting for Jesus. The great turning point has occurred in Jesus, but the arc of His-story is long. The world and its inhabitants are still not the way they should be. Sin and evil, pain and suffering, still threaten to overwhelm efforts at goodness, peace, justice. And so, like Simeon and Mary, we wait for Jesus to come again, to put all things right.
As we wait, I am reminded of a prayer that has a long Scriptural pedigree. The cry, “How long, O Lord, how long?” echoes down from the enslaved Israelites in Egypt, through an astonishing number of psalms (e.g. Ps 13.1; 35.17; 89.46; 90.13; 94.3), and the prophets. That cry is voiced by those slain because they had borne faithful witness to God’s word, in Rev 6.9-11. These martyrs long for God to intervene and exact justice because the world is still not right, and they have suffered under its wickedness. They are told that they must wait. Something else still has to happen before Jesus comes again, before the new creation appears, before the final resurrection, before God puts all things right.
The ‘something else’ is that more believers are to be martyred for their faithful witness, until the number is complete. As the book of Revelation progresses, we find out that it is precisely through the faithful witness and patient endurance of the saints – even unto death – that the victory of the Lamb is worked out in the fallen world (Rev 12.11).
Waiting and faithful witness go together. Waiting is not passivity or withdrawal. One of the activities in the recent Youth Camp was a Hands-on-Learning project. One team went to Willing Hearts, a volunteer-run, non-profit organization that helps provide for the needy. After the activity, some youths shared that the packets of rice they helped prepare seem to be small “droplets” – futile, impotent, weak – in the face of the overwhelming ocean of needs among the poor. It looks like a lost cause. But so it is with all kingdom work. It always looks like defeat. But these acts of self-giving by believers are acts of faithful witness. They are acts of defiance in the time of waiting. They witness to our conviction, in the face of all that the fallen world throws at us, that pain and suffering do not have the final word, that giving is better than taking, that love is stronger than death. And we will find that faithful witness (through words or deeds) are not just the stuff we do while waiting until the final victory of the Lamb. They are acts through which we participate and usher in the final victory of the Lamb.
Every Advent season, we join with creation in its groaning for the long arc of His-story to reach its resolution at Jesus’ second coming. Wait and witness… with hope and joy.
Written by Quek Tze-Ming with contributions by Cindy Ng