Last week I was together with some staff at our church to discuss our Advent messages for this year. It was rich time to think about this season of waiting that leads up to the birth of Jesus. The Covid crisis cannot be underestimated in its impact or in our desire for it to be over. Everyone on the planet is waiting for this crisis to be over. Each one of us feels it, our churches, schools and communities feel it, our local businesses and economy feel it. So how does our current situation affect how we minister the message of the gospel?
Our discussion led us to answer the question: What does it look like to faithfully wait on God? So the four weeks in Advent will answer this question with the following answers and themes:
Waiting for Peace
Waiting with the Word
Waiting with Contentment and Joy
Waiting with Hope and Future Glory
As we began to conclude our discussion I started thinking about other times in history when the world was experiencing one particularly troubling issue. How did former preachers minister the message of the gospel in difficult times. So this led me to think specifically about Dietrich Bonhoeffer and World War II. Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor in Germany during the Nazi regime and faithfully proclaimed the gospel even to the point of dying as a Christian martyr on April 9, 1945, a month before Germany surrendered.
If anyone struggled with proclaiming a message of hope in a dreadful time it must have been Bonhoeffer. So I started researching his advent messages and came across this quote:
“If there was ever a generation which needed to learn to wait, then it is surely ours. We wait for improved political conditions and a better economy. We wait for a promotion in our employment. We wait for work. We wait for a new morality…But in all these things, we wait anxiously. For who knows if what we are waiting for will ever come? Or if perhaps something quite different will come? And because we do not know, we must be prepared for disappointments. And for this reason, we must not lose our balance, We must stand firm.
But in our waiting there always lingers a certain amount of resignation. Our fondest hopes, all that we wish for, are weakened by an inner feeling that they may not be fulfilled. We don’t want to be foolish. And it would be foolish to assume that the hopes for the future were already achieved; foolish to hold so firmly to our belief that our life would collapse if it were not to happen. Our foolish waiting would then become an agonizing waiting, an unholy selfish grabbing from one another, wanting this, that and the other, afraid to give anything away, dreaming of the future and ignoring the benefits of the present, wanting and waiting for what eludes us. And we know quite well that that is not the kind of waiting that Jesus speaks of. Such waiting is not Advent waiting.”
But when we have been through all these foolish waitings and put them behind us, something quite different waits within us. When this waiting takes possession of us, it supersedes all our foolish waiting. A longing emerges within us, which will not be silenced, a longing that all should be fulfilled amidst all the failures and against all the evidence, yet we protest its fulfillment all the stronger. This is a waiting within us for nothing less than that this world be redeemed through and through, not by this or that political means, but by God. When God himself comes to us, then Advent truly begins to become real. When we see all our hopes and dreams shattered by questioning, by fruitless efforts and failures; when the narrowness of our existence wounds us; when suddenly we are tormented by the thought that all is lost and fallen into oblivion; and when the cry is wrenched from us as the prophet Isaiah said:
“Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down.” (Is. 64:1),
then perhaps we can understand what the Bible means by “waiting.”
Bonhoeffer’s time was really no different than ours. We face evil and we need a Savior.
We are desperately waiting for our current situation to be over. Some of us want it to be over so that we don’t have to have any more loved ones die, some so they can get their job back, and some just so they freely gather, hug and see others face to face. And while I don’t see these things as foolish waitings, the only way for them to come to true fruition is if God acts to redeem them.
Thanks be to God who sent His own Son Jesus, to bear the wrath that our sins deserve and to reconcile all things under heaven to Himself. Oh, isn’t this gospel such good news! In the midst of darkness, Jesus brings us light. In the midst of a global pandemic, Jesus brings us healing. But only when we see that God has come down to be with us, as Immanuel, God with us.
While we do have to wait for the final consummation of all things when Jesus comes again in His glory we do not have to wait for God to be present with us now. God sends the answer to our waiting in Jesus Christ. Whom we have now, we actually don’t have to wait any longer to feel the presence of Christ in our lives. The redeeming, the reconciling, the peace, the relief, the calm, the mercy, the grace, the love. This is the great news of the gospel and we all know, its the gospel that changes everything!