Will we be found waiting?

In the faith communities I knew as a child, there was no Advent and Christmas season. (Well, I guess there was, but nobody seemed to have heard about it.) We did not light candles each week—blue or purple or pink or any color. There was no cross in the sanctuary on which to hang a purple cloth. No one called for a Christmas Eve service, so no one envisioned candlelight communion. Unless Christmas fell on Sunday, we never held services on Christmas Day. The church was locked up tight, so we could all celebrate Santa’s generosity.

Our nod to Christmas as a holy season fell on the Wednesday and Sunday before Christmas. On Wednesday, everyone gathered in the Fellowship Hall to sing carols and watch a nativity play presented by children in costumes made of whatever was available—bathrobes, cardboard, and tinsel. After the play, every good little boy or girl received a bag with an orange, two apples, a candy cane, and a few walnuts. When Sunday arrived, we found a few red poinsettias and maybe a white one or two near the platform in the sanctuary. The big event of our Christmas celebration was the Christmas cantata presented by the choir on that high holy day. When the choir sang the last “Gloria”, we walked reverently down the aisles and placed our Lottie Moon Christmas Offering in a manger filled with straw. To this day, I am not sure which character of Christmas we thought was the most significant—the baby Jesus or Lottie Moon.

Now memory is not always reliable. Sometimes memory forgets important details. At other times, memory embellishes the story. It is best to be careful with memory, but to the best of my memory we were not too focused on the coming of Christ in those churches I attended long ago. We weren’t waiting on much more than the total of the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and the arrival of Santa Claus. Despite the fact that we weren’t waiting for Jesus with any real hopefulness, my Sunday School teachers did convince me that everyone around the time that Jesus was born was waiting on pins and needles for the promised Messiah to come. In my imagination, I heard all kinds of conversations about this Messiah, and I saw people gazing into the sky as if he would come bolting out of the blue like Superman. I convinced myself everyone was waiting for Isaiah’s light to shine into the deep darkness in which humanity lived.

I still find it hard to jettison the impression that everyone was looking for Jesus, but the evidence is overwhelming—they were not! The people in the first century were a lot like you and me. Most of them were just trying to survive from one day to the next. They came out every morning hoping someone would hire them for the day. They hoped there would be enough to buy a couple of barley loaves and a few fish for the family dinner when the man paid their wages. Merchants moaned about how Rome was fixing prices. Everyone, rich and poor, complained about taxes. Pilgrimages were made to Jerusalem for the festivals. Neighbors squabbled. Birthdays were celebrated. People got married. Children were born. Friends died.

There were undoubtedly people yearning and praying for the coming Messiah. We do meet both Simeon and Anna who had been waiting with such great anticipation that they recognized the Messiah—an infant in the arms of a poor couple in a crowded temple. Some, I am sure, waited, prayed, and looked, but the baby Jesus arrived while most people were all snug in their beds.

Sunday marks the beginning of the Advent and Christmas season. We will hang the greens, carry in poinsettias, light candles, erect the Advent wreath, and sing and speak of waiting during this holy season. We will get ready for something—but what? Are we simply fulfilling traditions or do we yearn and pray for things to change—to be God’s way? Will we find ourselves praying in a whisper—Come, Lord Jesus, come? Are we weary enough of violence and war to pray for the arrival of the Prince of Peace? Have we seen enough hunger and nakedness, animosity and hatred, disease and death, grief and despair to inspire us to pray for God’s kingdom to arrive in all its power? Are we able to see beyond our small worlds to yearn for the reconciliation of all God’s children?

Maybe there are only a few who wait expectantly for Christ to come. Maybe that’s the way it has always been. Maybe the Advent and Christmas season of worship is essential for us if for no other reason than to remind us that Christ will come again and we will most likely be caught by surprise! Maybe, at least once a year, we need to be reminded that the world will not always go on as it is. A day is coming when the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdom of our Lord! Will we be found waiting as God’s faithful children?


Jamie Broome

Jamie Broome began serving Immanuel in 1993. He previously served First Baptist Church in Midway, Kentucky for ten years. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Carson Newman University, where he met his wife, Rita, and his Master of Divinity from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, where he also did a Th.M. and doctoral work in church history. He is a native of South Carolina, and the Broomes have two sons, Chip and Rusty.