Sitting in the passenger seat of the car at the stoplight, I have vivid memories of watching the red light and calling out “Now!” More often than not, the light would still be red. “NOW!” I’d repeat, but everyone knows only the first attempt matters in this game. Every once in a while, I’d get lucky and my command would float across the intersection and touch the light, flicking it green.
We’re impatient people who get lots of satisfaction when the wait is over.
If we hate to wait at stoplights, we have a hard time comprehending the generations who lived and died, each awaiting the day when God would fix the brokenness in the world. Generation after generation, God delayed.
Matthew and Luke each open their gospels with lists of names, a family tree of sorts. Matthew wants us to see the perfect symmetry between Jesus and the Exile, the Exile and David, and David and Abraham. What I’m always struck by Forty-two generations. That’s a long, long time.
He came as a baby, born to young parents, started from the most helpless state in life and grew. As Jesus launched into the public eye and was performing miracles, he warned his followers to be patient and wait to disclose his identity as the Son of God, for his time had not yet come. His coming, his living, all of it is so patient.
Do you know who isn’t so patient? The enemies of God. As far as they are concerned, Jesus can take his time. When Jesus encounters a man with many demons, and upon seeing Jesus, the demons recognize him and are caught off guard at his coming, literally asking, “Is it already that time?” (Matthew 8:29). Revelation accentuates this in its portrayal of the dragon being flung from heaven to earth and thrashing about, “knowing his time is short” (Revelation 12:12).
While the build up took generations, Jesus’ victory did not take long to accomplish. His life was but thirty-some years, his ministry only three of those. Once the world saw the advent of Christ and his kingdom, our impatience didn’t subside, rather it increased. Armed with the Holy Spirit, who is literally God dwelling within those who have faith in Christ, we long all the more for the full presence and rule and reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. The cry “Come down here” is punctuated with great urgency, “now!”
No longer are we Simeon, able to die in peace having seen the long-awaited savior, but rather we are John the Revelator crying out at the end of the story, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20).
Because Advent is a time of anticipation and reflection, we need James’ encouragement, “You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5:8).
James bridges two worlds for us in this one verse. Between the time of the coming of God and the time when he comes again is the patient establishing of our hearts. This is what Christmas does for us. It reminds us that while we cry “Come down here now,” God is already presently establishing our hearts.
This is Spirit work. The Holy Spirit causes us to groan for a better future, but the Spirit is also showing us so many ways God is at work right around us, right now. It’s the Spirit who pricks our hearts when we sin, the Spirit who revives, the Spirit who guides our days. The Spirit is God’s preemptive response to the cry “Come down here now!”
I sometimes wonder when we cry “come down here now,” God isn’t saying, “I’m already there! I sent my Spirit to you to to be a constant comfort and presence!” (John 14:26).
Advent is about Christ, for sure. But we cannot discount the work of the Holy Spirit richly establishing our hearts as we patiently wait for the return of the Lord.
Until then we may feel like the kid in the seat looking at the light saying, “Now… Now! Now!! Now!!!”