Psalm 40 expresses the longing of the heart for the coming of the God.
I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined unto me, and heard my calling.
O Lord, let it be thy pleasure to deliver me: make haste O Lord to help me. Thou art my helper and redeemer: make no long tarrying, O my God.
But there is a tension in Christian spirituality. In New Testament terms that is caught up with the conviction that not only has Christ died, and is risen, but that Christ will come again. We want Christ to come. Don't we? O come to my heart Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for thee. Isn't there?
The spiritual side of that feels ok – warm, hopeful, encouraging. But scripture points to a deeper reality. I can never hear these words without Handel's music:
For he is like a refiner’s fire. And who shall stand when he appeareth? For who may abide the day of his coming?
Advent reminds us that we find ourselves, in musical terms, in an interrupted cadence (or at least, half-way through a perfect cadence which, musically and theologically, has yet to be perfected). We are in suspense. And suspense heeds to be satisfied. We need to know how the story ends. The Christian dilemma is that we know how the story will end – and yet, we don’t. 'We believe that thou wilt come to be our judge'. But – 'let me never be confounded'.
The Cambridge musician and theologian Jeremy Begbie has written eloquently on this theme. He argues that just as the handling of delay is a key compositional and improvisational skill, so in Scripture is the handling of delay bursting with theological and spiritual truth. And we will not use this time of delay, this time of longing, of anticipation, wisely, unless we recognize that there is meaning in the waiting.
Advent is the season which reminds us of the meaning in the waiting. A period, to quote Begbie, in which it is possible to explore, through a proper Christian patience, something new. Something of incalculable value. The gratification that comes via Advent is deferred – and we must be careful about what we wish for.
Let us hope, earnestly, that the Lord will 'make no long tarrying'. But let us not wish for judgement before we are ready to receive it.
This Advent, let us find meaning in the waiting.