The Mercy of Waiting

A Letter to Pittsburgh Presbytery from
Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge
General Minister
Thursday, December 16, 2021

The Mercy of Waiting

Every year Advent invites us yet again to reflect on waiting. Waiting goes against the grain of human appetites and expectations. It feels dehumanizing when I have to wait in line for what is due to me.

I may have a far more urgent need than the person who called the service center before me, but we all have to wait in the order of our calls, as their recorded response keeps reminding me, much to my irritation. I am treated the same as every other caller, even when there may be great disparity in our levels of need. Yet at first blush this seems fair. Nobody gets to cut in line because of who they know or how much they possess.

Everyone waiting their turn sounds like a good idea, until we consider that every one of us is different. We have unique histories, dissimilar needs, and widely varying resources available to us. The God whom we have come to know through Jesus engages us each in ways that are as individual as our genetic code. Jesus does not treat everyone the same. The constant is not what we get, but who he is.

During Advent we consider how to prepare ourselves for the Lord’s coming. We hear John the Baptist call us to repent in preparation for the one who is to come. Advent always calls us to renewed repentance while we wait for Jesus.

The coming of the Lord has to do not only with us waiting for the Lord, but also with the Lord waiting for us. According to 2 Peter 3, the earliest Christians were already asking, “Where is the promise of his coming?” They had been taught that Jesus was coming back, but when they didn’t see it happen as soon as they expected, they began to lose hope. Their impatience led them to lose faith.

The apostle responded not with a scolding, but with a gentle reminder that the reason we need to wait on the Lord is because the Lord is waiting on us, “not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.” God is like the father in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, who waits as long as it takes for his son to come to his senses and return home.

As we await the Lord’s coming, we cry out, “How long?” How long will injustice prevail? How long will the planet continue to be degraded? How long will disasters such as this week’s devastating tornadoes in the mid-south continue to assail? The whole creation groans to see the revelation of God’s victory over all that harms and destroys, something that we must await with patience according to Paul.

For us, waiting usually feels like a necessary evil. We are naturally impatient, a corollary of our natural selfishness. John Calvin defines the essence of sin as “concupiscence,” a big word meaning essentially the insistence, “I want it, and I want it now.”

What a contrast with our Lord’s patience with us! He waits for us because of his mercy. The Lord waits not to make us suffer, but to extend us every opportunity for repentance, however long it takes. In Jesus we see the mercy of waiting.

Perhaps we can learn something from him for how we treat each other. Advent focuses on our waiting on Jesus, but might it not also inform how we wait for others? If Jesus waits mercifully for us, we ought to do the same for each other. Perhaps during the pandemic we need to cultivate this capacity more than ever.

Just as the Lord’s kindness leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4), so our exercise of kindness toward each other can transform our broken relationships. Amid the pandemic, in the grip of politicized antipathies, we can and must find a new and better way to walk together, if we are to be credible witnesses to the redeeming and reconciling power of Jesus.

Let us practice patience and kindness in waiting on each other, even as our Lord demonstrates patience and kindness toward us.

Yours in mercy,

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