But actually it is fitting. Waiting. That is what we practice during this part of our liturgical calendar. We remember Israel waited, for the Messiah to be born. We sit with Mary as she awaits the birth of her son, and the Savior of the world – no biggie. We wait, with anticipation, with hope, in joy. We celebrate the greatest gift that was ever given, as we remember that we are a waiting people . . . people who wait on God to fulfill his promise.
Advent. It is beautiful.
In different ways we remember waiting, even trying to teach our kids this part of our faith during Advent. I mean isn’t that what Advent calendars are all about? Adeline and Maisie have one, of course Adeline is the one who really gets it at 4 and 1/2, Maisie not so much at just a little over at 1 and 1/2. Every day Adeline pulls out the drawer marked with the day of the month, discovers the ornament, and decorates her advent tree. She knows the last drawer, marked 25 of course, means Christmas is here and she can put the star at the top of the tree. She is eager to see what type of ornament the drawer holds each morning, and the to find its perfect place on the tree (who’s daughter is she again???). But for now, she waits, and waits, and waits – not always patiently of course – until the last day when she gets that star!
But hold on, is it us alone as God’s people who wait? Or do we too often forget that God, too, waits on us? Does God wait? Is that even possible? Is that theologically okay to say? I mean can’t God of the universe make things happen, any thing, any time – like when he wants to??? I mean, God never really HAS to wait . . .but does he choose to wait?
The father of the lost (prodigal) son, he waits for his to return. We are not really sure how long, I mean its only a paragraph or so when you we read the story, but no specific time frame is ever used to describe the time he spent squandering his inheritence. The son partied, he spent, he wasted, a famine set in . . . but was it weeks? Months? We don’t know.
What we do know is that the father never shows up at a party to tell him, “Enough son, I am taking you home.” We know what doesn’t happen. We know who is not mentioned. Like what about the character who is missing from the story – Mom?!?! You know, the many scenes us mothers are left to wonder about that involve the mother begging the father to go out after her son, to save him, to get him, to drag him home kicking and screaming – and then the scene where she finally resolves to go get her son back on her own, since her husband seems to want absolutely nothing to do with it!
Yet, these scenes do not exist.
Even without such scenes it is pretty safe to assume the father and mother waited, in agony and in love, wondering and hoping, anxious at times, maybe even uncertain. We can imagine sleepless nights for that Mom, and long days checking the road to see if a figure appeared in the distance, the silhouette of her lost son.
The lost son, his mother waited for him. His father waited. Even his elder brother waited.
And then finally one day, Scripture tells us the son made his decision to return home. And his homecoming looks a little something like this:
So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
The waiting was over. The son had returned. It was now time to celebrate.
And the celebration began, but even before the son arrived. The father saw him “while he was still far off” and he went to him, “filled with compassion”. It is the waiting father who runs with open arms to his lost son, and kisses him. It is the waiting father who meets him on the road home to embrace him. It is the waiting father who skips right past the sons plea for forgiveness and declaration of unworthiness to a song of celebration . . .
“Let us eat and celebrate, for this son of mine was dead and is alive again, he was lost and is found!”
The time of waiting is transformed into a time of celebration upon the return of the lost son.
Of course I have imagined Mama dearest right there with their son, slapping the back of is head while asking him, “What the heck where you thinking? ” as she accounts all the ways she tried to come after him and convince his father to do so. Then hugging and kissing him, near to death, while in her own motherly way welcoming him home.
But bottom line: the waiting is over. The son is home. The celebration begins.
Now, you have to pause and think about this for a minute. As a father, now I am talking human not heavenly, there had to be times where he wanted to go out looking for his son. But he waited. It was never easy for this Dad, but he waited. We can imagine it was painful, hard, tiresome, and just down-right exhausting, but — go ahead, you can say it with me — he waited.
Yet even after all the waiting the father doesn’t grow weary, but remains hopeful. In this anticipation and in this hope, he meets his son on his way back home to grab him, hug and kiss him – and initiate the long awaited celebration.
He waited, and he waited well . . . because he waited in hope.
Advent reminds us we are God’s waiting people, the Israelites waited for the Messiah, and now we wait for His return. We wait for his Kingdom to be fully realized. We wait for the New Heaven and the New Earth. We anticipate and we hope. But still, we wait.
So the story of the lost son not only speaks to the son’s waiting but also to God waiting on us, to the Father who waits for his children. We are not alone in our waiting on God, because he waits on us too.
Why? I have no idea. All I know is that he chooses to wait for us, but with open arms ready to celebrate. At times he waits for us to hear it, to see it, to understand it. He waits for us to grow, to change, to get it. He waits for us to wake up, to “get it out of our system”, to care enough . . . he waits for us to come home to him. He waits to find us and declare in celebration, “You were lost, but now you are found.”
But the incredible part to me is that when we finally come home, he doesn’t even make us walk all the way. Instead he meets us right where we are . . . on the path . . . and he embraces us with joy.
The “Coming Home” is the best part of the story. Because it reminds us that God’s idea about grace and compassion blows our ideas out of the water, speaking the truth that God has been waiting on us all along. The “Coming Home” is where expectant, hopeful waiting is transformed into a joyful celebration — what once was lost is now found.
Telling the story of my time away is not half as enjoyable as telling the story of my coming home. Why? Because in the latter God is at center stage and his compassion and grace are the main players. Trust me, this stuff is way better than when the party girl steals the spot light. Because this part of the story points to the Father who waited, never giving up hope, anticipating that day of celebration, that day his daughter would come home.
What are you waiting for? Whatever it is, God waits with you, but also for you. Not because he must, but because he wants to.
As the hopeful people of God, we are called to wait. And the beauty of Advent is that it reminds us of this truth, and encourages us to wait with hopeful expectation. The way we wait matters. Just like the father waited for the son to return, with expectation and in hope – prepared for a joyful celebration. We too, are called to be people who wait in hope, ready to celebrate. All Sons & Daughters articulates it so well in there song “We are waiting”, give it a listen by clicking on the video below.