The Weight of Waiting | Advent Series #1
How long, Lord God Almighty,
will your anger smolder
against the prayers of your people?
You have fed them with the bread of tears;
you have made them drink tears by the bowlful.
You have made us an object of derision to our neighbors,
and our enemies mock us.
Restore us, God Almighty;
make your face shine on us,
that we may be saved.
‘How long, Lord?’ – I’m pretty sure we’ve all uttered those words. Whether semi-ironically whilst stuck in a traffic jam, or at the end of our tether in a seemingly never-ending crisis of faith.
This is the cry of Psalm 80, a community prayer which depicts extreme national distress. It even goes so far as to assert that God is the cause of this distress, as his anger ‘smolders against the prayers’ of his people. There is a continued cry for restoration throughout this psalm, and particularly in the repeated refrain of ‘Restore us, God Almighty’.
As the world around us gears up to celebrate Christmas, decking the halls with boughs of holly and proclaiming the alleluia chorus, it is easy to forget that Advent is traditionally a time of waiting. Throughout Christian history, it has been a time both to lament and to anticipate.
Advent is a chance to lament – as we see clearly in this passage. It is a lament of the Psalmist’s worldly situation – deep darkness with no apparent hope of a saviour. It is a chance to cry ‘how long, Lord?’ with one breath, and in the next to speak hope with anticipation: ‘restore us, God Almighty… that we may be saved.’
And so, Advent is also a chance to anticipate – to look back at the saviour given to the world in Jesus, and to anticipate the second coming of Christ, when all things will be made new.
Advent is, it seems, a time of tension. As the world lights up with Christmas joy, we as Christians must – for now at least – sit with the weight of waiting.
There is no shame in asking God ‘how long?’ Whether that’s the cry of loneliness, of unfulfilled dreams, of grief, or of despair – we need not be ashamed of crying out in the words of the Psalmist. But we must remember that lament and hope go together; they always have.
We cannot separate grief from hope, for without the one the other makes little sense. So as we launch into Advent this year, may we not only wait with joyful expectation, but learn to live with grief, secure in the knowledge that our cry of ‘how long, Lord?’ has already been answered – with the cry of the newborn baby in the manger.