More than Watchmen Waiting for the Morning
I don't like waiting. No one does. It's the whole point of the marshmallow experiment: do we have the self-control to wait when we know there's a payoff?
But waiting is the stuff of life. We wait with varying degrees of eagerness and impatience for our birthdays, to become adults, to hear back about a job, a diagnosis, to retire, to hear of births and deaths... but what are we truly waiting for? As Christians, our desire is, hopefully, pointed towards the resurrection, and life eternal with the God who created us for it. C.S. Lewis and T.S. Eliot both wrote in depth about the inborn sense of longing we have for "another country"—something greater, more eternal, a place we do not know how to name or find on our own. Lewis called the sensation Sehnsucht. Eliot called it Ehrebung. Both were attempting to describe the same uplifting surge of joyous emotion in the midst of whatever darkness and trial you might be experiencing.
Advent was a new concept to me, coming from a religious background that didn't observe the church calendar. All I knew about it was that you counted down to Christmas, and some people opened calendars and ate chocolate. As a person inclined to be melancholy, I have come to revel in what Advent truly is—a reminder of the deliverance promised in the Messiah (both 2000 years ago and at the final day). It is an exercise to put our hearts back in place, to wait with purpose and longing for the eternal while still existing with whatever the temporal is throwing at you, and a foreshadowing of the darker vigil we pass through in Lent.
We wait. God does the work.
As a person inclined to take matters into my own hands (GIVE ME SOME WORKS TO DO!) I have found this to be a truly helpful system re-set. The collect for the Fourth Sunday in Advent in the Book of Common Prayer reads:
"Oh Lord, raise up your power (we pray thee) and come among us."
And if I can be forgiven for quoting a Roman Catholic, Cardinal Wiseman says:
"It is as though we feared our iniquities would prevent His being born."
We pray, we wait, we repent, we mourn: but not "as those who have no hope" (1 Thess. 4:13). It is a time to "return to the Lord, your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love" (Joel 2:13). When the term "steadfast love" is used in Scripture, I have been taught it refers specifically to the kind of love that forgives when a contract has been broken when there has been unfaithfulness, and the offended party does not take the legal action they are entitled to take. What more beautiful kind of love exists than this? When the God who has every right to divorce us for our spiritual adultery instead sends His own Son into human flesh to die a horrible death at the hands of His chosen people, to forgive us our sins, and continues to love us steadfastly, offering us every chance to return to Him? Even those of us outside the covenant by birth? It's overwhelming. I am baffled by this.
Waiting on the City of Peace
I have been singing the Psalms as part of my evening devotions for roughly the past six months. The Psalmist frequently and fiercely objects to waiting. "How long, O Lord?" is a common refrain. The more I familiarize myself with the Psalms, the more sympathy I have for the Old Testament Jews. The faithful awaited the birth of the Messiah—we await the second coming of the Messiah. It is HARD to be faithful knowing full well you may not see this in your lifetime.
And that’s IF you’re faithful. The Old Testament records in painful detail God’s unending patience with and steadfast love for the unfaithful, how prophets are repeatedly sent to urge repentance and restoration. God is not silent even when the people utterly reject Him and turn to their evil ways - He has always continued to provide a way to walk in. He has continued to speak, in response to our pleas, the imploring the Psalms are full of "do not be silent, reveal yourself." When human shepherds fail, He says:
“I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them.” - Ezekiel 34:23-24
I also read through Isaiah this year, and am about to start it over again, because it made more sense this time than it ever has to me before. Leonard Cohen's poem "Isaiah" also stands out more:
Now plunged in unutterable love
Isaiah wanders, chosen, stumbling
against the sculptured walls which consume
their full age in his embrace and powder
as he goes by. He reels beyond
the falling dust of spires and domes,
obliterating ritual: the Holy Name, half-spoken,
is lost on the cantor's tongue; their pages barren,
congregations blink, agonized and dumb.
In the turns of his journey
heavy trees he sleeps under
mature into cinder and crumble:
whole orchards join the wind
like rising flocks of ravens.
The rocks go back to water: the water to waste.
And while Isaiah gently hums a sound
to make the guilty country uncondemned,
all men, truthfully desolate and lonely,
as though witnessing a miracle,
behold in beauty the faces of one another.
Isaiah knew the Sehnsucht, the Ehrebung, surely. He was principal in foretelling things he would not live to see. So did Jeremiah, with the words lighting his bones on fire, desperate to be spoken:
"Shall I bring to the birth, and not cause to bring forth? saith the Lord: shall I cause to bring forth, and shut the womb? saith thy God. Rejoice ye with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all ye that love her: rejoice for joy with her, all ye that mourn for her" — Isaiah 66:10-11
This restoration, this great re-birth of Jerusalem, it is still coming. The very name Jerusalem can be translated "City of Peace"—we know enough of its history to know that it has never been that, but that it soon will be rightly named:
"I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Savior. For this is what the Lord says: ‘David will never fail to have a man to sit on the throne of Israel, nor will the Levitical priests ever fail to have a man to stand before me continually to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings and to present sacrifices." — Jeremiah 34:15-18
And though David's line and the Levitical priests did what men do, and failed in their callings, we have this Great High Priest who has never failed. He who has always been on the throne of Israel can never fail. He stands there now, offering Himself, having been born into flesh like ours (Heb. 4:14-16).
And this Great High Priest goes to prepare this new Jerusalem:
“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” — Isaiah 40:1-2
We wait. God prepares the city.