I wait beside the phone. I wait for four different medical specialists to call. I wait for more specific diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment plan. I wait for scans, MRI’s, blood tests, and assessments. I wait for the new prescription to come in. I wait for the current prescriptions to start helping, the side-affects to wear off, and the pain to subside. I wait for my heart rate to come up or go down, or my oxygen saturation to go up. I wait for my fever to go down. I wait. Do I wait in vain? I often wonder.
Draw nigh, Draw nigh, Emmanuel
And Ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lowly exile here
Until the Son of God appear…(J. M. Neale, 1851)
The people of Israel were always waiting, always hoping. Their hearts were longing, and they held to traditions to remind them of the Savior, the King, for which they were longing. They did not choose to distract, lest they forget their longing. Our church universal is in a similar situation to the people of Israel at the end of the Old Testament. They were in exile, waiting and hoping for the coming Messiah. They didn’t entirely understand how it would work, or how He would come, but they held to what they knew of Him and His work in the past, anticipating and hoping for His future coming. We live in the tension and the glory of the kingdom that is already present on earth through the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the deposit of the Holy Spirit, and the longing for the kingdom that is to come, where God rights all wrongs and wipes every tear away from every eye. In the Spirit of the Israelites, we sing in minor key, “Death’s dark shadows put to flight” in one of the most popular advent hymns in the Christian church, this verse coined in Hymns, Ancient and Modern, in 1861.
My tendency, and I believe that human tendency, is to try to distract from discomfort and agony when there appears to be no present solution to the problem. When our resources are sapped, and we can do nothing but wait for answers or solutions, we try to ignore the pain and longing. This response sometimes helps us to survive. Chronic illness sets the stage for a lifestyle of waiting. We wait for explanations for confusing symptoms. When diagnoses are provided, we wait for solutions, if there are solutions. If there are no solutions, we suffer through the bad days and wait for days with decreased pain. We long, we desperately long, to feel well enough to function. We wait for a miracle, or we choose to focus elsewhere.
Waiting for something limited to this earth—like healing or the right diagnosis for me, often feels frantic and frenzied, filled with fear and anxiety. Waiting on the Lord, the waiting of Advent, is a joyful, hopeful, expectant, pregnant, and holy longing that knows and trusts that its object will ultimately come to fruition. Maybe this is a time where we redirect our energies to this holy anticipation of the Savior, the Kingdom, and His inextinguishable light. Not one of these promises can be rivaled. They cannot be undermined.
So this waiting that is found in my illness…maybe it is a sacred space. Maybe it is a thin point in our mortal world of flesh and blood where we can see the Advent kind of waiting more clearly. As I wait for the uncertain, I am reminded of the undeniable promises for which I wait. This waiting hurts, and it rubs me raw. My raw soul longs for a salve that is not always provided in medical answers and physical healing. It longs for the gentle, loving touch of the Savior, the Redeemer, the One who will right all wrongs and ultimately heal all hurts. My raw soul longs for the coming kingdom, and in a world broken and oozing with longing, we sing the minor songs of Advent together: “Veni, Veni, Emmanuel.” We may or may not know what we are really truly waiting for, but we are all waiting. I pray that our waiting may not be in vain, but may be a shadow-glimpse of the true illumination of Advent-waiting.