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A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

How Long?
December 1, 2016

“Wait a minute!” Tell a child who wants something now to “wait a minute” and you know what happens. Protesting, pouting, begging. A minute can seem like an eternity to someone who needs something now. And usually it lasts a lot longer than sixty seconds.

“Please wait for the next available representative.” The website says, “Call the help line,” and by the time you reach a real person, you need more help than when you first placed the call. If you can even manage to wait that long.

“Wait until the economy is stronger.” So potential start-up business entrepreneurs are sometimes counseled. How long will that take, and how will we even know we are there?

So much of the agony of waiting lies in its uncertainty. Waiting for the doors to open at the Benedum? No problem, because we know they open precisely one hour before concert time. Waiting for Christmas? It’s hard, but we know exactly how long the wait will last.

But how about waiting for a Savior? Israel’s prophets had long proclaimed that God would send the Anointed One to deliver God’s people, yet the people waited, waited, and waited some more. Many would-be Messiahs sprang up, only to fade away as quickly as they burst on the scene. Prophets “made careful search and inquiry, inquiring about the person or time the Spirit of Christ within them indicated.” (1 Peter 1:10-11) Yet they died without seeing the Christ revealed.

Scripture teaches that God is never early or late. God sent Messiah Jesus “in the fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4), not a minute early, not a day late. What seems like interminable delay to us is no such thing to God, for whom “one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise.” (2 Peter 3:8-9)

God promises to save us, but how long till it take? God promises to make us whole, but how long will it take? Jesus promises to come again, but how long will it take? Scripture promises us a new heaven and a new earth where all that is wrong will be made right, but how long will it take?

The prophet declares that waiting for the Lord strengthens us. (Isaiah 40:31) The psalmist urges us, “Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage.” (Psalm 27:14) Really?

If our main question is “How long?” we will eventually lose heart in waiting. We will turn back, like I sometimes do on my morning commute when traffic stops moving. I try an alternative route; surely it will move faster! Almost always, it is similarly backed up. I’m only driving farther by trying first one route, then another; rarely does it get me there earlier.

But what if we focus not on “how long,” but on “how shall we wait?” Pittsburghers know well how to wait for the start of a big game. It may not begin for hours, but tailgating makes the wait one of the best parts of the day, especially if our team loses.

Advent is an invitation to wait for our Lord actively, not passively. We hang the greens, make Advent wreaths, and light their candles. We listen anew to prophetic anticipation of Messiah’s coming, sing hymns of the season, and make special efforts to reach out to the needy around us. Such actions increase our capacity to wait still longer, maintaining hope that all of God’s salvation promises will be fulfilled, in God’s good time.

We might expect that persecuted believers would find waiting for salvation especially hard. We pray for their safety, deliverance, and prosperity, in keeping with this month’s call to prayer. Yet early Christian literature testifies that when Christians were persecuted, they did not cower in dread or defeat, but proclaimed God’s goodness in Christ all the more. Consider Stephen, testifying with shining face of God’s mighty deliverance through Jesus amid the hail of stones that killed him. (Acts 7:54-60) Think of Paul and Silas, jailed for their faith yet singing God’s praise loudly. (Acts 16:19-34)

We may not be persecuted for our faith, yet struggle to carry on when all seems to be going wrong – the economy is in a shambles, our health is failing, our country is riddled with strife, friends and family are at each other’s throats over supporting different candidates for office. How long, O Lord, how long?

We don’t know how long. But while we wait for God to set things right, we can choose to focus our hearts on God’s goodness. We can set aside malice toward those who differ from us. We can keep anchored in Scripture. We can keep singing the Lord’s song. We can reach out to the needy around us with generosity. Advent is the perfect time to do all of this, as we hear yet again that salvation will soon be here in its fullness.

Waiting with you,

The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister

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