Advent Hope: Redeeming the Time

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The woman at the coffee bar taps her nails in a staccato rhythm. She turns to me and says, half with irritation, half in apology, “I just ordered a cappuccino. You wouldn’t think it would take so long,” then added, “Sorry to hold you up.” She seemed frustrated and embarrassed at the same time.

We are not a people who like to wait. Our tendency to look upon waiting as a negative experience has been enhanced by our increased use of digitized media. Those of us who began using computers in the late 1980s, when we were pleased just to see letters gradually appearing on a green or blue screen, now feel dizzy by the rapid evolution of the internet and its myriad children we call social media.

Thus, standing in line at a checkout counter or being put on hold on the phone we find at least mildly irritating. Time, we are taught, is valuable and having to wait is a waste of that time.

So why are we told so many times in the Bible to wait? Not only that but to “wait patiently”? In the Bible, those periods of waiting, those breaks in our supposedly forward movement, are golden moments filled with the possibility of meeting God.

I wish now I had told the lady that it is presently the season of Advent during which we celebrate waiting.

Because most customers are irritated by having to wait to purchase or return an item, many businesses are using new methods to track the time customers must stand in line at the checkout counter.

Other businesses spring up to help solve this problem. That overhead camera at the checkout line does more than watch for shoplifters. It records how fast the checker gets your items scanned and bagged, how many people are in line behind you, even how many footfalls it takes to get to the cashier. Using some recondite formula, it then alerts the manager when it would be profitable to open another checkout line or hire more workers.

A research company has estimated that we spend six months of our lives waiting in line and another twenty weeks of our lives on hold. But that’s nothing compared to the seven years we spend waiting to fall asleep.

All these we consider to be time wasted. We turn time into money by spending it. But time isn’t really money. Nor is it a commodity.

Time is, in fact, invaluable. Indeed, time is beyond any exchange rate. Perhaps we worry about wasting time because we know we cannot acquire or manufacture it.

But what we can do is redeem it. Paul would never have considered wasting time. He was expecting the return of Christ, when heaven and earth would be transformed. In the meantime, the in-between time, he urged the fellowships to whom he wrote to redeem this time of waiting. One suggestion he makes for redeeming time is to sing and make melody in your heart. And to be thankful in everything So even while I wait in line at the coffee bar, or hang on hold, or wait for a habitually late friend to show up, I can turn those moments into prayers and songs.

So I look at the impatient woman in front of me and pray for whatever deadline she is anxious about meeting. Is she an overworked single mother who’s got to pick up her child from school? Maybe she’s nervous about a doctor appointment where she may find out bad news. The cause of her impatience doesn’t really matter. I need to give thanks for her and for the barista who has finally gotten the machine to work and is now handing the woman her frothy cup. And to bless them and their lives, whatever they contain. When I remember to do that, it makes a little melody in my heart.


Advent Hope

“ … we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:4-5).

Every now and then (or perhaps more often than that), it might be hard to find hope in this world. Even in the midst of celebrating the birth of Christ, we may struggle to see the silver lining. At the height of all the revelry, it may be difficult to find a solid foothold or a ledge to hang onto. And so, Jesus joins us in the center of it all, acknowledging the dark and dreary and not requiring us to “buck up” or “get a grip.” Instead, he lies in a manger, a star over his head, and silently invites us to look up. Christ is at work in the world, despite evidence to the contrary. In this series, Advent Hope, join us as together, we take a deep breath and dare to look up.