I’m ashamed to admit that, for many years, I felt unable to fully enter into the Christmas spirit until the very last minute. As a college professor, the first few weeks of December have long been filled with advising students and administering exams and grading. Giant stacks of grading.
And because of my penchant for crossing one thing off my list before moving onto the next, each year I would force myself to plow through the mountains of papers before I could even think about buying any presents.
But with the arrival of our kids a few years ago, things at This Odd House have changed.
We now put our tree up as soon as it’s acceptable. We fill the Advent train with chocolate and rush to it each morning—before breakfast—counting the days. We buy some presents when we see them on clearance and tuck them in the closet until the appointed time. We have made a few of the crafts in the Truth in the Tinsel book multiple times. And this year we added a little “Jesse Tree” and portions of Ann Voskampf’s Unwrapping the Greatest Gift to the mix.
Yes, we Worralls have embraced the Advent season. Not perfectly or consistently, by any means. We miss some days and rush through others. But certainly with a new sense of anticipation and preparation, we are waiting for Christmas. Waiting for Him to come.
If you’ve been around this space at all during the past few months, you’ll know that we’ve been talking a lot about waiting. I’ve found it so helpful to hear your experiences of the phenomena and to record a few of my own. I’ve also surveyed some of Scripture and been sort of stunned by the prevalence of waiting in its pages.
And the more I’ve seen and heard, the more it’s been confirmed to me that waiting is so very central to the human experience. That God ordained this to be. That year after year He weaves waiting into the very fabric of our lives. That waiting causes us to slow down and refocus and number the days. That it is meant to be a time of preparation and anticipation. And that we learn things while we wait that we would never otherwise know.
Many people in God’s Word spent a surprisingly long time in the waiting room. Abraham (25 years). Joseph (13 and more). Moses (40 years, then 40 years again). Hannah (5-15 years). To name just a few.
And, as you know, God also waited to send His Son (100s, no, 1000s of years).
This year, though, my favorite Biblical passage on waiting has been John chapter 11. Perhaps an unusual one to reflect on during Christmas week. But it so clearly communicates the mind of God on waiting that I just have to share.
It’s the famous story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Give it a read again if you get the chance. You probably already know the climax of story, where Jesus called into the cave and the dead man walked out.
But there is a lot of important story before that point.
In the opening verses of the chapter, we learn that Lazarus was ill and that his sisters sent for Jesus, saying, “The one You love is sick.” Then in verses 4 and 6, John makes it clear that Jesus received the message. I love that John tells us twice. That he makes sure we know. “Jesus heard.”
He always hears.
But He doesn’t always hurry. And He certainly didn’t in this case.
For two whole crucial days, the passage tells us, Jesus stayed put. He didn’t rush to the scene. He let Lazarus die. And Mary and Martha and the other mourners grieved and wailed and wondered why He did not come.
In part, we know—from our vantage point—that Jesus wanted to make sure that Lazarus was, in fact, dead and that the people knew him to be. The Jews of the time believed that the soul of a dead person remained in the vicinity of the body, hoping to reenter it for three days. But once decomposition set in, the soul departed. In part, then, Jesus waited so that the dramatic resurrection He had planned could not be misconstrued as a simple resuscitation.
Jesus’ goal with this impending miracle was the glory of God. We know this because He said so. He told His disciples. Twice. “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God.” And He repeated this truth a third time at the tomb.
Then, too—though the glory of God could certainly be an end in itself—Jesus clearly states that there is an additional purpose. God’s glory would be on full display so that the people would believe. He repeated that point as well. In verses 15 and 25. And in verse 42, He prefaces the main event with a public prayer. “Thank you, Father, for hearing me. I say this on account of the people…that they may believe.”
Then He shouts into the dark tomb and calls forth life.
And many believe.
But we have to back up for one more minute. There is another detail in this story that we dare not miss. And that is His love. Mary and Martha knew that Jesus loved their brother. Remember? Their message was simply to Jesus was “the one You love is sick.” But John wants to make sure we know that Jesus didn’t just love Lazarus. He loved the two sisters as well. Verse 5 spells it out. “Jesus loved Martha and Mary and Lazarus.” It doesn’t get any clearer than that. Then in verse 36, the Jews also notice the love. It was hard to miss.
And there we have it. The John 11 formula.
One Divine Delay + Jesus’ Lavish Love = A Display of God’s Glory, which leads to Belief.
At Christmastime 2011 Peter and I were weary with waiting. And like Mary and Martha in the moment, I didn’t understand why Jesus seemed so slow. “Lord, if you had been here…we wouldn’t be in this mess. How can you stand silently by while we suffer so?”
I wrote recently about Daryl’s journey. How he came to us unexpectedly in 2009—after years of infertility and failed adoptions. How his case wound through the foster courts at a sometime snail’s pace. How we had six or seven case workers. Multiple continuances. And plenty of confusion and frustration and fear.
I also wrote a few weeks ago about our wait for Amelia. How we started the China adoption process in 2006 and were told that it would take eighteen months. How the wait grew to over six years. And how we wondered if she would ever come.
But then, in January of 2012, we finally saw her face. We received our referral and her picture, and we began to watch unfold what He had been planning all along.
In February we received our US embassy appointment. That all-important date. The final step in our six-year China adoption journey. The day we would receive Amelia’s American passport and be able to bring her home. The date we were given: March 26, 2012.
Days later we traveled by train to a courtroom in Chicago to petition for Daryl’s adoption as well. Peter and I and Daryl and Grandma Viv stood in a silent line while our attorney presented the papers. The judge reviewed the case and asked a few questions. Then he wrote his recommendation and said, “You don’t have to be here, but the court will finalize your adoption on March 26, 2012.”
Peter and Mum may have missed it. That divine detail. That God-sized exclamation point at the end of our long, run-on sentence.
But I turned to them right there in the courtroom, with jaw dropped and eyes wide and mind blown, and said, “That’s our embassy appointment date in China. That’s the same exact day that we will be finalizing everything with Amelia.” And their jaws dropped and their eyes went wide and their minds were blown as well with the glory of God.
And it strengthened our belief.
We will do some waiting today. Even as I write, Daryl is waiting for Daddy and our house guest to wake up. Amelia is waiting for her Christmas red toenails to dry. And waiting is hard—no matter your age or circumstances.
Later we will wait for the cookies to bake, for our friends to arrive, for the presents to be opened. We will continue to prepare and to anticipate. We will look for His arrival and His glory and His lavish love. And we will undoubtedly learn things that we would never have known otherwise.