Waiting in the Time Between
I will stand at my watch
and station myself on the ramparts;
I will look to see what he will say to me,
and what answer I am to give to this complaint.
—Habakkuk 2:1 (NIV)
I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the LORD.
—Psalm 27:13-14 (NIV)
In her book Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ, author, theologian, and preacher Fleming Rutledge calls this season of the Christian year the “Time Between.” In some ways, she writes, we live in Advent all of our lives, “because the people of God live in the time between the first coming of Christ, incognito in the stables in Bethlehem, and his second coming, in glory.” We are waiting for nothing less than the return of Jesus.
But this time of waiting, she says, is anything but passive, and anything but easy. Rutledge is clear: “Advent is definitely not for sissies.”
This waiting needs courage because we live in darkness. And like the prophet Habakkuk, we must confront this darkness and cry out to God from the gloom. Then we are tasked with keeping watch for God’s answer, and with responding as he calls us into the work he is already doing in the midst of the night.
But this courageous waiting can take confidence because the light of Christ is already breaking in. Like the psalmist, we wait with the certainty that we will see God’s goodness even in the here-and-now. In the confident words of the great Canticle of the Turning, “though the nations rage from age to age, we remember who holds us fast: God's mercy must deliver us from the conqueror's crushing grasp . . . the world is about to turn.”
Some of the people who have taught me the most about courageous and confident waiting are people who have found themselves refugees. I have seen them wait with a patience and endurance that bears all suffering, but they do not rest. “Some days, the promises of Jesus are all I have,” one woman told me. But she does not believe these promises are only for a future new creation — she also believes that they are for now. It is this belief that drives her to continue to fight for justice for her home country and its people, even though she is no longer welcome there. It is this belief that drives her to seek safety for other refugees, though the hurdles are many and the numbers overwhelming. And it is this belief that sustains her, even on the days when it is difficult for her to see God’s presence in the midst of the darkness.
For all of us, to wait in the “Time Between” is to keep watch for the work of God, to put ourselves in the midst of that work, and to participate in it even as we wait with eager expectation for the glorious new morning of Christ’s return. Come, Lord Jesus.
Prayer: God of the time that was, the time that is, and the time that will come: give us courage and confidence in this season of waiting. May we actively confront the darkness with the hope of Christ’s return, and put ourselves in the places where you are already at work in the world. Amen.
Dena Nicolai serves as a chaplain and refugee support mobilizer for the Christian Reformed churches of British Columbia.