Whenever I hear the word “waiting” I usually imagine hearing the word “room” immediately after. It conjures up memories of being at the dentist, with a sickly antiseptic smell you only ever encountered there, surrounded by magazines that were years out of date and of no interest whatsoever to a little boy who’d rather be kicking a football up against a brick wall. It is the kind of waiting that is characterised by feelings of boredom and helplessness. But waiting ought not to be such a passive act. ‘Waiting’ is an active verb.
The parable of the talents/minas as recorded in Matthew 25:14-30 and Luke 19:12-27 seems to condemn inactive waiting as laziness. Those who were praised and rewarded were those who took what they had and put it to good use, in preparation for when the master returned. In Matthew’s account, the parable is not separated from his apocalyptic statement of chapter 24. The chapter separation seems misplaced, as the two are part of one narrative. In amidst the disturbing imagery Jesus uses, he is quite clear when he concludes, “Therefore you must also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
In our modern vernacular, we don’t often equate “getting ready” with “waiting”. Instead, we might think of things that we can get on with whilst we wait, such as reading the magazine in the waiting room. It becomes an add-on activity, not integral to the act of waiting. When I wait for my parents to visit, I tend to “wait” with a vacuum cleaner in one hand and a duster in the other; while I work frantically in order to make my flat have some semblance of peace and good order. I can’t rest on my laurels and hope it will sort itself out.
I suppose that the difference between waiting as a time of preparation and any other time of activity is that what we are we focusing on. In a 24-7 society, permanently wired to breaking news and social media it can be easy to make “being informed” the focus of our attention. But for the Christian, it is God who ought to be our focus. If our active waiting of preparation is done with God firmly in mind, then that is an act of worship. If we do it because we are simply observing a time of year, then we have fallen into the trap some at the church of Galatia fell into when Paul admonished them thus:
“You are observing special days, months, seasons and years. I am afraid that my work for you may have been wasted.” (Galatians 4:10,11)
- In the run-up to Christmas, are we focusing on preparing for Christ or preparing for meetings?
- Is waiting that much harder to do in broadband land, as we get used to ‘instant’ connections?