It’s no secret that we live in a culture that seeks instant gratification of every desire. And we also live in one where the gratification, or some reasonable substitute for it, is close at hand. We don’t do well with the idea of deferring our desires for another day, one which may be far in the future or which may carry with it no stated date of fulfillment. It doesn’t usually help our frame of mind to see other people getting what they have wanted in terms of life’s so-called finer things, even while we wait.
But what if those finer things relate not only to things tangible, but also to intangible yet truly good conditions such as fairness, justice, opportunity, freedom, and truth? Hope deferred regarding these most legitimate longings surely saddens the heart and threatens to crush the spirit. It is to those who have cried out to God without succumbing to despair that the hope of Advent is addressed.
Today’s readings continue those from yesterday. Malachi 3:13-18; Philippians 1:19-26; and a reprise of Luke 1:68-79. The prophet recognizes the perennial thoughts of those who weary of living in wanting obedience while watching the seeming abundance of the unfaithful. What value is actually gained by carrying out the duties of a God who is perfectly capable of making things turn out otherwise, yet does not appear to be interested in doing so? The answer is to note that those who determine together to remain on the pathway will be the true people of God.
Such a person was Zechariah generations later, as he rejoiced in the realization that at long last God was acting in his own time and his own family to provide the long-awaited vindication. Instant gratification? Not even close. But it was something far better. The promise of God to visit His suffering people was now about to be actualized, and Zechariah rejoiced. In Christ we find God’s answer to the longsuffering of people of all ages and generations. The answer is not a discourse, lecture, treatise, or tract; there is no apology for taking so long to bring about the promised rescue. There was Christ, whose incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension would change everything, as Christians have celebrated and proclaimed for many years. That and that alone was and is God’s answer.
It’s not as though all believers now prosper, however, while watching everyone who opposes God gets his due. A mere two decades after the coming of Christ, the apostle Paul found himself imprisoned and threatened because of the announcement that God’s answer had arrived, and that people should turn to him. He knew through God’s own testimony and Holy Spirit that Christ had validated all of the promises from the beginning of the ages, and that He will conclude His work when that same Christ has been confessed as Lord. And this hope so overshadowed anything available on earth that he embraced it as the only worthwhile good for which to strive. Ten times in the Philippians paragraph Paul uses the future tense with confidence. What he truly wants is not yet on offer in the world.
I suspect we, like believers of every age, can be drawn to set our sights elsewhere than on what is truly God’s design for our history and ultimate good. When we recognize that this has occurred, repentance is in order. I, like most of you, continue to have my attention diverted to and by the things which are open to instant gratification. To live is not to have or procure, or even to long for and plan for procurement. To live is to look for the coming Christ and to welcome His Spirit where we see Him working.