Waiting for the Birth of the
Messiah: A Radical Approach

AUGUST 25, 2016

As the Christmas season approaches, I reflect on the events leading to the birth of Jesus and its relevance for us today. I am struck with the depth and insight God gives to us through different characters and situations in this story. One of the central themes in the story of our Savior’s birth is that of waiting. In Luke’s gospel, we see faithful people who are waiting – Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, and Anna. I ask myself, how can we learn from them within the context of our conflict here in this land? Waiting takes place in different forms and we see how people in this land are waiting in their own right.

During our staff’s morning devotions, we have been reading Henry Nouwen on the “disciplines of waiting.” In this he shares how waiting is active, not passive. We are “to wait with openness and trust as it is an enormously radical attitude toward life.” And, as we look throughout the scriptures we see that waiting always came with a promise. For example, Zechariah and Elizabeth received a promise that they would bear a son, and with it the courage and the strength to wait. Nouwen writes, “A waiting person is someone who is present to the moment, believing that this moment is the moment.”[1]
Sadly, throughout history, many were unwilling to wait. The prophet Zephaniah criticized the children of Israel for not waiting properly for the Lord. They were busy looking to what was coming, anxious about the future. Fear of the future also influences people today. The overwhelming events around us cause many to run away, move out, or in some cases, lash out against the other.
Nouwen reminds us that we are waiting for something that has already begun inside us. For us, living in the midst of this conflict, we actively wait upon the Lord as we pursue his kingdom and obey his commandment to be peacemakers. For some, waiting is giving up and despairing, yet for us as followers of Christ, our waiting is yearning and preparing for something greater. We are “nurturing the growth of something within,” and we do so with hope! Throughout scripture we see that in waiting there is acknowledgement of God’s promises and trust that God is revealing something that he has already placed within. As a result, every moment we work for peace and reconciliation, we are waiting to see how God will manifest himself in the future. It is a willingness to stay where we are, partake in the work God has appointed for us, persevere in our endeavor, patiently wait for his will, and grow where we are planted.
At the same time, there is a danger in waiting. Some are waiting for a political solution, trusting that our countries’ leaders will come to terms with each other and solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Others have given up on waiting and have accepted the status quo. There are also those who are waiting for an apocalyptic and divine intervention that will resolve this conflict once and for all. When these things do not come to pass in the way we anticipate, we can become disappointed and give in to despair.
Nouwen reminds us that waiting is open-ended as God is molding us in his direction for the future. Waiting is hard for us because our desires are selfish and we think we can control the future. However, open-ended waiting is relished with hope, a hope in God and with trust in him. During the time of our Savior’s birth, some were waiting for the Messiah with the expectation of deliverance from political persecution, and because of this, they did not recognize him when he came. Yet we see others who waited upon the Lord, and their faithfulness was rewarded, and their hope made manifest.
God always has a plan that exceeds our limited selfishness. God’s plan surpasses our ethnic hopes and aspirations. God sent his son the Messiah to save not just my people, or your people, but all of us. Mary’s waiting for the birth of her son indicated her assurance that God would fulfill his promises, and that he would act in the future. We place our hope in the God, knowing he will complete that which he has started, and we actively wait for him as we pursue his kingdom, waiting for him to put this world to rights. While we wait on God, God waits on us, waiting to see our response to his calling in this world.
By Salim J. Munayer, Ph.D
Musalaha Director

[1] Nouwen, Henri J. M., Finding My Way Home Pathways to Life and the Spirit. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2001, pp. 91-103.