Thursday evening, December 31, 2020, approximately 1 billion people waited to see the 11,875-pound Waterford crystal ball drop at Times Square.
Waiting parties are now “a thing.” Among the world’s top 15 most waited-for events, sports scored highest, just ahead of royal weddings, with television’s most watched event ever being the 1996 Atlanta Olympics opening ceremony, when 3.6 billion viewers around the world watchedMuhammed Ali light the Olympic torch in Centennial Olympic Stadium.
Many of my own great waits probably resemble yours. My earliest waits were for my birthday and Christmas. Then we all got older and couldn’t wait to attend high school and wear the prescribed uniforms we thought represented growing up. Then we couldn’t wait to graduate high school, couldn’t wait to get to college (i.e., leave home), couldn’t wait to date, couldn’t wait to get married, couldn’t wait to have children, couldn’t wait for them to grow up, and whatever else we can recite together that we couldn’t wait to do.
Recently I’ve been stunned by the awareness that elderly and ailing family friends actually verbalize that they can’t wait to go to sleep as they continue to wait for Jesus. I find it sobering that after all of the years and efforts of getting to the next thing, life offers no final culmination of never having to wait anymore. Waiting that much but never attaining to total bliss surely makes earthly life seem anticlimactic.
New Year’s Days consistently seem to generate lots of energy, hope, enthusiasm, and joyful anticipation of the year ahead. We welcome them with projections of so many things we can’t wait to experience through the unfolding seconds, minutes, hours, days, and months that turn waits into memories. Still, if 2020 taught anything, it is that plans notwithstanding, we know not what lies ahead.
From birth we become part of a living-in-waiting watch party.
Christian believers, since A.D. 31, have been waiting for something spectacular and majestic. Jesus gave us a promise: “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again” (John 14:2, 3, KJV). We are waiting for His return, an event that will reduce the historic 1996 Olympic torch lighting ceremony to less than an ibid. endnote. Population Reference Bureau estimates suggest that some 108 billion humans have been born to date. Between Jesus’ second coming and the descent of the New Jerusalem, 108 billion pairs of eyes—and counting—will all behold Him (Rev. 1:7). The Second Coming, specifically, varies from history’s most watched past events in two significant ways:
First, we and the wait interact with each other: We “speed its coming” (2 Peter 3:12), and it shapes all our living. Christ’s coming impacts all life’s activities. We begin and end everything we do by checking in with the principles for being in sync with that return. We want to eat, drink, or whatsoever else we do in light of that coming glory (1 Cor. 10:31). We live the day and dream through the night with a prayer of anticipation on our hearts: “Should swift death this night o’ertake us, and our couch become our tomb,may the morn of glory wake us, clad in light and deathless bloom.”1
The second significant reason that waiting for Jesus’ coming differs from all other watch parties is related to our very coming into being. Waiting for Jesus is predicated on the fact that from birth we become part of a living-in-waiting watch party. We are born for a specific end, and we exist in a state of continuous waiting for that end, the deathless bloom we have been promised. We are waiting for the land of fadeless day, where there will be no night (Rev. 21:25), where there will neither be sadness nor tears nor pain of any sort, whether physical or psychological or emotional or other (verse 4). This grand, all-inclusive wait carries a lot of weight. It opposes our pessimistic settling into practical mediocrity. It rebukes our adjustment to pathetic conditions involving pervasive social injustice, runaway political corruption, a worldwide coronavirus plague, which yield shrugged shoulders that say, “That’s life.” We say, “This world is a vast lazar house,”2 and neglect to go on with the quotation: “But Christ came to heal the sick, to proclaim deliverance.”3
God did not originally give humans threescore and 10 years of life; or 10 decades of life; or even Methuselah’s nearly 10 centuries of life: He gave us life. And when our own folly deprived humanity of life, its Giver insisted that His original purpose for our being would stand. He would give us life again, though it cost Him everything. He sent His Son, who plainly stated His purpose for coming—that we “may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). So now we wait “in eager expectation” (Rom. 8:19) of the final realization of God’s first purpose.
Living in a holding pattern is not easy. Truth is, even the best of Christians can find it exhausting. We wait for unmistakable indications from God on how to relate our anticipated end to commonplace, day-to-day issues: waiting for the diagnostic result about a lump on the breast while poring over available research about all types of (breast) cancers; or waiting for the college acceptance letter and multiplying trips to the email inbox. Should we be losing sleep over our children’s life choices? Or agonize over insufficient financial resources to meet rental, mortgage, or other crucial obligations? Should we develop duodenal ulcers while waiting on test results to know if we or our aging parent has the COVID virus,or if it’s lupus after all, or pure psychosomatic confusion? How do good Christians wait?
Sometimes, tired out from laboring under the heavy weight of waiting for heaven’s answers and directions, we become exposed to the opportunistic devil ready to slip in and cause havoc, eager to smear our faith with doubt and distract us from our focus of waiting on the Lord. With Christ in the wilderness and in Gethsemane, Satan’s opening line presented multiple potential distractions from Jesus’ preparation for service. “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread” (Matt. 4:3): Jesus could worry about His identity—if He was God’s Son; He could focus on His hunger after 40 days without food; He could wonder about His miracle-working powers. Then, in Gethsemane, at the climax of His saving effort, we recall how He felt the weight of the sins of us all, 108 billion and counting! Jesus longed for relief from the tension of wanting to know the outcome. He had to wait, but He found rest and support as He surrendered to His Father’s will. Then the Father sent a special angel, “not to take the cup from Christ’s hand, but to strengthen Him to drink it.”4
So it will be with us in our end: “Glorious will be the deliverance of those who have patiently waited for His [Christ’s] coming and whose names are written in the book of life.”5 As we wait for God’s tomorrow we may experience fears and failures, passions and pride, sickness and sorrows, joys and jilts, rock-bottom moments, and, at last, the reward of the ages. But still we wait, confident in His commitment, knowing that those who wait and hope and trust in the Lord, “shall renewtheir strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isa. 40:31, NKJV).6
Deleise Sharon Wilson is a Seventh-day Adventist nurse educator and administrator.