Are you waiting for something? Are you questioning why God isn’t answering your prayers? Have you wondered whether God even cares?
If so, you’re not alone. I’ve struggled with all those questions before. People throughout the ages have waited and wondered about God’s timing.
We are now in Advent, which is often called the season of waiting. Yet it literally comes from the Latin adventus, which means coming. We are waiting for what we know is coming.
Advent represents not just the four weeks before Christmas but also the thousands of years that the world waited for the coming of Christ. And the thousands of years we’ve been waiting for his return. God foretold the coming of Jesus in the Garden of Eden when he promised a deliverer to destroy the devil’s power, and yet God waited to send him until the world was ready.
While the gospels of Matthew and Luke give the genealogy of Jesus, retelling the story of his miraculous birth, John begins even before that. John reminds us that even before the world was created, before the dawn of time, Jesus was there. He says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:1-3).
Jesus was there before time began and yet he waited to come to earth. Years of tears and misery. Years of rebellion and separation from God. Years of slavery and wilderness, of victory and defeat. Years of prophecy and hope, and then 400 years of silence. Through it all, God was waiting.
Finally as John tells us, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us…full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Jesus came to live and die as a man so we could be forever reconciled to God. This is the best news the world has ever known, but why did God wait so long?
Of course, we can’t fully know why God waited, but we do know that his timing was deliberate. We know that God loves his people and deeply cares for them. And we know that Christ was born at a time in human history when the world was uniquely ready to receive the gospel.
At the time of Christ’s birth, three civilizations and cultures had an enormous impact on the world. Those civilizations were the Romans, the Greeks, and the Jews. Pilate wrote on Jesus’s cross “King of the Jews” in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew so everyone in the then known world could read it. Each one of these civilizations prepared the world for the coming of Christ and the spread of the Good News.
Jesus was born into a time of unprecedented peace, known as the Pax Romana, Roman peace, which lasted from 27 BC to 180 AD. Rome had conquered and subdued all the surrounding nations, connecting diverse cultures, and bringing widespread peace. This peace enabled the Romans to enlist the help of conquered nations to build a massive infrastructure of roads which made traveling and trade possible on a grand scale. The Roman roads and the soldiers that guarded them (which ensured travelers’ safety from robbers) made it easy for the gospel to spread quickly.
The Greeks were the philosophers and thinkers of their day, known for their love of beauty and culture. But more importantly, they brought a common language, which was spoken throughout the Roman Empire. Since Alexander the Great conquered Palestine in 332 BC, many Jews spoke Greek. In fact, Greek was so widely spoken by the Jews that in 200BC the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek (the Septuagint). Moreover, since the entire New Testament was written in Greek, it was accessible to both Jews and Gentiles.
The Jews worshiped one God, a stark contrast to the predominant idol worship of the Greeks and Romans who worshipped a pantheon of gods. Because of the Jewish exile, Jews were scattered throughout the world and took with them their faith in one God as well as their commitment to the Scripture. They were waiting for the Messiah to come and redeem them.
We know that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law…” (Gal 4:4-5). God waited till the time was right to send Jesus. There were countless things in play, so many factors that needed to line up, and God was not in a rush. He waited till the world was ready to receive Christ. Every detail was important and had been planned long before.
If God has not acted yet in your situation, it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t care, can’t change it, or has forgotten. He is aware of everything that is happening to you and in the world around you and will not delay one second longer than is necessary. He knows every minute detail of the problem, every side of the story, every sleepless night, and every tear-soaked pillow. Yet for reasons we may not understand but must choose to trust, he is waiting.
Trust that he is not being slow, as some consider slowness. Believe that God wants only the best for you, and that even as you read these words, he is working for your good.
You will see it in time. Trust that your waiting has purpose, and that God is doing more than you can see or understand right now. As you wait, lean into him. You may be weary, but you can still find joy. Not necessarily joy in your circumstances because they may be unspeakably hard. But joy in the presence of God, who rejoices over you with singing. Joy in Emmanuel because our God is truly with us.
Used with permission of the author, Vaneetha Risner.