Nobody likes to hear those words. As children we were told that all the time, and we never liked it. As adults we’ve all had to say it to a child or two. Children don’t like to be told to wait. If there is something good that they want, they want it now and can’t understand why they can’t have it now. It’s part of the maturing process to learn how to wait.
Still, even as adults, nobody likes to be told to wait. We’ve perhaps grown used to it, maybe come to accept it, but, still, nobody likes to hear it. “Wait” means there is something you want, and you want it now, but you aren’t going to get it now. You never have to be told to wait for something you don’t want or need. “I'm going to question your integrity and impugn your character, but not right now; you are just going to have to wait.” No, there is usually an element of anticipation in the notion of waiting. You want something, you want it now, but you can’t have it now. You have to wait.
It’s common now to say that we are not as good at waiting now as we used to be, that in this age of instant gratification, of microwave dinners and faster and faster computers that our waiting muscles aren’t as developed as they used to be. There may be some truth to that. Two-hundred years ago it could take a letter weeks or even months to get from one person to another, depending on the distance it had to travel. Then came the locomotive cutting that time down, then the truck, then the airplane. I remember when airmail was something special that you paid extra for that could cut delivery down to a couple of days; FedEx made it that normal. When email came along messages could be delivered around the world instantly. If I was away from my computer they would all be waiting for me when I got back. Now I don't even have to wait for that—I have two devices, my tablet and my phone, from which I can get email, and since I'm rarely without my phone, I literally get mail almost as soon as it is sent. So, yeah, we don’t have to wait for a lot of things the way we used to, and maybe that has impaired the waitability of this age over previous generations.
But I'm not so sure. I'm not sure that waiting has ever been something we’ve been that good at. Impatience isn’t a new condition; after all, Paul wouldn’t have listed patience among the fruit of the Spirit if impatience wasn’t naturally a fruit of the Flesh.
For kids, the Christmas season is a time of waiting and anticipation, and what makes it hard for children is that they have little concept of time—telling them to wait a week is like telling them to wait a month, they have no concept of how long that really is. And, my goodness, tell them to wait a month and you might as well tell them to wait a lifetime. That’s how it feels, anyway. Do you remember that? And that’s because, perhaps paradoxically, time moves slowly for a child. For an adult months blow by like pieces of paper in a tornado, but for a child a month lasts forever. Waiting is excruciating when time moves slowly.
But it’s one thing to wait for something you want; it’s another thing to have to wait for something you need. That’s when time really does seem to move slowly.
This is the season of Advent. It’s a season of waiting. Advent lasts for roughly a month, but it commemorates a wait that lasted for over four hundred years. After the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem, destroying the temple and the city wall and carrying off the son of David who was the king, the people had to wait. They had to wait for God to return to Zion and for another son of David to become king. Understandably, after a couple of hundred years a lot of people gave up waiting. They either gave up on the dream, or they gave up waiting and tried to force the action with a sword. Either way, when God did return and the king did arrive—and in the same person, which no one anticipated—they couldn’t see it.
The only ones who saw it were the ones who, with great faith and undying hope, still waited.