Pastoral Perspectives

Even as we wait

     For some of us, being made to wait can easily become the “unpardonable” offence even when we are not in a hurry. In a day and age where we can have instant access to a vast array of information, goods and services, a five minutes wait can feel like an eternity. Given the way that the pace of our world is increasing, it is not surprising that many find themselves unwittingly shaped by this culture of hurriedness and haste.

     For me, whenever I am about to make payment at the supermarket, I will first scan through the different cashier queues instead of simply lining up behind the nearest or shortest queue. This is because at the back of my mind, I have several criteria as to which queue may actually show the most promise (ie. the queue that moves the fastest). As much as it may only end up saving me at the most a few minutes, I derive much satisfaction from being “productive” and being spared from getting stuck in a crawling queue.

     However, when I pause and think about my fussing over such trivialities, I do need to ask myself “Why am I in such a hurry?” and “Where am I hurrying to?”. It is not as if I always have something urgent or more important to attend to. Indeed, I am thankful that I do not always have a packed schedule.

     If I am honest with myself, I am just being impatient. In fact, my impatience only goes to show that I can be easily pulled towards the direction of my appetite for instant gratification and preference for convenience. Furthermore, I am so prone to getting things done at my own pace that I am not accustomed to having God do his work within me in the midst of waiting. Suffice to say, I struggle to see what good can possibly come out of waiting. From another perspective, it simply means that there are often occasions when I am not being filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18) and bearing the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23).

     In the Bible, we find a devout priest by the name of Zechariah who is acquainted with waiting (Luke 1:5-23). As a pious Jew, Zechariah would have been like many of his countrymen who yearned for the coming of God’s Promised Messiah. For more than 400 years, there has not been another word of prophecy from God while Israel languishes under the heavy yoke of foreign armies, with the Roman conquerors being the most recent. Thus, one can imagine how difficult it must be to continue waiting as one generation after another passed on throughout the centuries without having to see the arrival of the Messiah.

     On a personal level, together with Elizabeth, Zechariah would have prayed and yearned for God to bless them with a child over a considerable number of years. For this godly elderly couple, it appears that they have almost given up on their waiting such that when angel Gabriel spoke about Elizabeth’s pregnancy, Zechariah responded in disbelief.

     Yet, after a long season of waiting, we read that the first words that Zechariah spoke had to do with praising God (Lk 1:67-80). Undoubtedly, Zechariah would have rejoiced as he held his newborn son in his arms. However, from his prophetic song, we “hear” that his praise has more to do with God’s faithfulness in keeping his covenantal promises to Israel. For Zechariah, God has a far greater plan in store than just answering the prayer of a barren couple.

     Zechariah understood that the miraculous birth of John the Baptist and ultimately, the coming of Jesus Christ are the sure signs that God has “visited and redeemed his people” (v.68). In this one person Jesus Christ, Zechariah believed that God is finally fulfilling the Davidic (v.69-71) and Abrahamic covenant (v.72-75). Through Jesus, there will be salvation and God’s people will no longer walk in darkness and in the shadow of death (v.78-79).

     Taking into consideration the historical context, Zechariah’s song was truly an amazing declaration of faith. Although Zechariah was likely to be familiar with Old Testament prophecies, he would not have known the specifics of God’s salvation plan. To begin with, Jesus was still in Mary’s womb and has yet to perform any miracles that points to his divinity! However, based on what God has already revealed and through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Zechariah spoke confidently of God’s redemption as if it is something that God has already accomplished and fulfilled. In addition, having personally received from God what he and his wife had been waiting for all these years gave Zechariah the confidence that God will certainly fulfil his promises.

     To some extent, this is what demonstrating faith looks like. Faith is not some leap into the unknown but taking a step forward in view of what one already knows of God. Indeed, apart from a faith grounded in God’s Word and moved by the Holy Spirit, I doubt anyone will be able to believe that the decisive defeat of evil and humanity’s true hope would come from the womb of a teenage peasant girl in a small town.

     For Christians today, we need a similar faith like Zechariah if we are to live faithfully before God. Whenever the world tell us that Jesus is taking too long to return or when we are tempted to take matters into our own hands, let us take heart and consider first the birth of Christ. If we can be certain that Jesus who is God did step into our messy world some 2000 years ago and walked out of a tomb after being dead for 3 days, then on that basis, we can take Jesus at his word about his return. We do not need all the details before we choose to trust and obey God while waiting for his return. Not when Jesus had already come down to us because of his gracious love to the glory of God’s name. 

Rev Edwin Wong

November 25, 2018