A Lifetime of Waiting
by Ted Schroder
“It is appropriate that, as Advent draws to a close, we spend the last week
watching and waiting with Mary, the focus of the fourth candle on the Advent wreath, remembering not only the waiting that she did as she awaited Jesus’ birth but the waiting that she had to do for the whole of his life, and beyond. No parent-to-be can properly comprehend before birth the lifetime of joy, anxiety, delight, guilt, pleasure, and fear that await her or him once the baby has been born. This is a maelstrom of emotion that grows stronger rather than weaker as the years go by. Mary accepting ‘let it be with me according to your word’ (Luke 1:38) brought with it so much more than she could ever have anticipated, but this shapes her waiting and our accompaniment with her on this last week of Advent.” (Paula Gooder, The Meaning is in the Waiting, 112)
We first meet Mary when she was betrothed to Joseph. The angel Gabriel announces God has chosen her to give birth to a son named Jesus, who is to be called the Son of the Most High, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever. She is overwhelmed and hurried to tell Elizabeth, who is pregnant with another miraculous baby: John, who would become the Baptizer. Mary is inspired to proclaim a song, that has become known as the Magnificat: “My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” (Luke 1:46,47)
She waits for the arrival of the baby, not in the comfort of her home, but on the road to Bethlehem. The political circumstances of the day determined that she would have to give birth in a stable, in a strange town, where she knew nobody except her husband. She represents our human condition of loneliness, comforted only by her beloved spouse, a healthy baby, and the knowledge that God was doing something special through her. She pondered in her heart all the things that happened to her, but did not completely understand them.
When she and Joseph took the baby to the Temple on the eighth day to be circumcised and presented to the Lord, Simeon, prophesied: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that is spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34,35)
What enigmatic words these must have sounded to Mary at the time. They must have troubled her. The pain of physical labor, the sorrow of being far from her family, was now compounded by the hardest waiting of all: waiting for future pain. It is like being given a diagnosis of an incurable and painful disease. “A sword will pierce your own soul too.” How did she cope with the dread of this prediction? Did she find in her waiting for this prophesy to be fulfilled, the strength that comes from the presence of God, the assurance that the angel Gabriel gave her of God’s special anointing of her?
She did not have long to wait. The mysterious and exotic Magi visit with gifts of treasure. The angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream, warning him to flee to Egypt before King Herod kills Jesus. They escape, and wait in Egypt until they hear that Herod had died. God had provided for them through the treasure of the Magi. They make their way back to Nazareth after some years’ absence.
Other children come along. Nothing untoward happens. The holy family seems perfectly normal. The events of the past grow dim. Mary’s life is that of an average mother. Jesus turns twelve. They return to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover, and Jesus goes missing. Mary and Joseph find him in the temple courts engaging the teachers who are astonished at his wisdom. Mary is offended at his behavior and still did not understand as she witnessed his growth in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.
Joseph died, and Jesus took over the family carpentry business until John the Baptist came to town. After he experienced an anointing at his baptism Jesus left home. His mother must have been worried about him. He was thirty. He had not married – an unusual occurrence. He started preaching. With her other sons she tried to get him to come home and give up his itinerant preaching. She and her family thought he had taken leave of his senses. She had forgotten the prophecies and sees him only as her son, not the Son of the most High, the ruler of the house of Jacob.
She heard of his confrontations with the religious authorities. She feared that he was getting into trouble with the law. Finally she is told that he has been arrested. She traveled to Jerusalem to be with her son, her firstborn. She learned that he was condemned to be executed for blasphemy. She was there when he suffered and died on the cross. Jesus saw her there and commanded his disciple John to take care of her, and her to take care of John. “A sword will pierce your own soul too.” She represents every mother, every parent, who sees the suffering of their own children and would want to protect them from further harm.
She, with others, took him down from the cross and laid him in the tomb. She was heart-broken. She waited, with the other women, to embalm his body on the third day, but when she went to the tomb he was not here. The angels appeared again, and told them that he was not dead but risen. “His kingdom will never end.”
There are forty glorious days when he appeared to them, before he was taken up into heaven. He told them to wait for the coming of the Spirit. “The disciples all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” (Acts 1:14) “Our last glimpse of Mary, then, remains the same as that which we have seen throughout the Gospels. We see her, first, waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promise of the birth of a baby; we see her, last, waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promise of the Spirit.” (Gooder, 134)
“The meaning is in the waiting.” (R.S. Thomas) Waiting for life to be born. Waiting for him to be weaned. Waiting for him to take his first steps. Waiting for his first words. Waiting to see him grow up. Waiting to hear what was happening to him. Waiting to know how people were responding to his message. Waiting in fear for his safety. Waiting for him to die. Waiting for him to appear again. Waiting for the Spirit to come. Waiting for the prophecies to be fulfilled. Waiting in dread for the worst to happen – for the sword to pierce our soul too! Mary modeled, what Gooder calls, “godly active waiting. Advent is a time that summons us to embrace waiting as a way of life, to practice it, to hone our skills, and by doing so to lay down the foundations of a life shaped by waiting, so that when those times come in which we have no idea what to do, we fall back on that deep, still waiting in the present moment that opens up a space for God’s intervention in our midst…..Mary
symbolizes for us the agony as well as the glory of waiting.” (136,137)
To wait is to be still and remember that God is in charge and he knows what he is doing. To wait is to be willing to make yourself available, to live in the present, to commit yourself to a lifetime, the long-term. To wait is to surrender yourself, and those you love, to the loving providence of God, knowing that he desires only the best for you. “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)
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