As a child, I always found it difficult to sleep the night before Christmas. The sense of anticipation was excruciating! That’s why I loved Christmas mornings. The dawn of the new day brought a sense of relief, joy, and promises fulfilled.
Except on one occasion.
That particular Christmas the waiting had finally gotten to me. Prior to Christmas day, when no one was looking, I had crept to the Christmas tree and secretly examined all of the presents. And there I found one with my name on it. I picked it up. It was heavy, so I knew it was something fun, and not clothing. I noticed the wrapping was thin. I could see through it. I peered through the paper, and that’s when I saw what was written on the box, revealing its contents. I now knew what I was getting for Christmas. As with all forbidden fruit, there was a momentary taste of satisfaction, and then an overwhelming feeling of shame and disgust.
Christmas day that year wasn’t as special as all the previous ones had been. Somehow my Christmas had been spoiled. Why? Because I just couldn’t wait for the blessing.
We live in a culture that doesn’t like to wait. Our technologically super-charged world is designed to be quick, instant, and convenient. While there’s nothing wrong with convenience, perhaps in the midst of all the hubbub we should ask ourselves an important question: “Must everything be designed to keep us from waiting? Is there no value at all to delayed gratification?”
Must everything be designed to keep us from waiting? Is there no value at all to delayed gratification?
The Word of God tells us there is. “The end of a thing is better than its beginning; the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.” (Ecclesiastes 7:8). In the New Testament, the Greek word for patience (makrothymia) means “the state of remaining tranquil while awaiting an outcome” (BDAG, s.v. “μακροθυμία,” 612d).
The Jewish patriarch Abraham was a good example of this. He waited 25 years before God gave him a promised son. “And so, after he had patiently endured, [Abraham] obtained the promise” (Hebrews 6:15). There are other biblical examples besides Abraham. Putting them all together, one could conclude that the test of faith almost always requires waiting.
This was especially true for Abraham’s descendants who were waiting nearly 2,000 years for the promised Messiah, “the Consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25). When Jesus did come on the scene, the Bible tells us there were thousands of Jewish people who believed in Him. However, the majority, sadly, did not. And ever since, observant Jews have continued to wait for the arrival of the Messiah. Indeed, in the 15th century, an unknown Jewish author wrote a brief, 13-point Jewish creed, called Ani Ma’amin (I Believe). Point 12 declares:
“I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah, and, though he tarry, I will wait daily for his coming.”
Observant Jews memorized this statement of faith. Moreover, some Jewish victims during the Holocaust chanted it as they marched toward the gas chambers (Encyclopedic Dictionary of Judaica, 32).
Today, most Jewish people do not identify with the Orthodox branch of Judaism. Subsequently, most Jewish people no longer look for the coming of a messiah. They have become disillusioned. First, from their perspective, it’s taken too long for the Messiah to arrive. Second, they’ve often had their hopes dashed. Over the past 20 centuries more than two dozen false messiahs have emerged. As a result of these disappointments, many Jewish people have just given up on the whole idea of waiting for the Messiah.
Don’t Jump the Gun
If we’re not careful, Christians can make the same mistake. Even though we’re not waiting for the First Coming of the Messiah, but rather the Second, we can still become impatient with God. We can begin to lose heart and hope, especially as we see the increasing degeneration and corruption of the world around us. Frustrated, we might question and challenge God, “What’s taking so long? Why doesn’t Jesus return?” And if we’re not careful, we may then fall into the trap of giving up, of no longer waiting for the blessing.
If we’re not careful, we may then fall into the trap of giving up, of no longer waiting for the blessing.
That’s what happened to Abraham. Although he is an example of enduring faith, Abraham was not perfect. In fact, Genesis 16 tells us of a time when Abram (his previous name) jumped ahead of God, and, as a result, Ishmael, Abram’s son “according to the flesh” (Galatians 4:23), was born. Abram’s impatience brought devastating consequences. Ishmael’s descendants, the Ishmaelites, had a long history of being a thorn in the flesh of the children of Israel (Psalm 83:1–6). Additionally, many of today’s Arab-speaking and Muslim people claim they are descendants of Ishmael. If that is true, then Israel is still suffering the consequences of Abram’s decision made almost 4,000 years ago. All because of not waiting for the blessing.
There are others in Scripture who suffered loss because they could not wait. Esau was willing to give up his birthright for a bowl of stew just because he was unwilling to wait for the blessing (Genesis 25:31–34). The prodigal son insisted on receiving his inheritance right then from his father instead of waiting for the blessing to come later (Luke 15:12).
Patience Pays Off
How about you? How’s your patience with God? He’s promised that Jesus is coming back. Do you believe Him? Or have you given up waiting? The Bible predicted there would be mockers concerning Jesus’ return, “Knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming?’” (2 Peter 3:3–4). Scoffers don’t understand that God does not measure time the way we do. He exists outside of time, so “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (v. 8). Just because we have to wait what seems to be a long time for Jesus’ return does not mean God is going to break His promise or is slow about keeping it: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (v. 9).
Just because we have to wait what seems to be a long time for Jesus’ return does not mean God is going to break His promise or is slow about keeping it.
So how should we respond to God’s timetable regarding the coming of Christ? Perhaps as Christians we might respectfully adapt the Ani Ma’amin (I Believe) creed to reflect our own beliefs:
“I believe with perfect faith that the Messiah has already come, and, though He tarry, I will wait daily for His return.”
Isn’t this what the Bible enjoins us to do? “Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5:7–8).
My friend, don’t “spoil your Christmas” by not waiting. Instead, “imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Hebrews 6:12).
The Lord is coming back. Wait for the blessing. It’ll be worth it.