O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger, or discipline me in your wrath. Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing; O Lord, heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror. My soul also is struck with terror, while you, O Lord—how long? (Psalm 6:1-3)
People cry out to God all the time, wondering why in the world (or in the heaven) he doesn’t do something. Doesn’t God know what’s going on here? Doesn’t he see the financial problems, the wars and genocides, the crime, and the discontent? More personally, has God lost track of MY problems?
The psalmist cries out to God, “My soul also is struck with terror,
while you, O Lord—how long?” He is terrified, while God does—what? Wait around? Kill some time? Make a few extra planets? Where is he? What is God doing while all this is going on? And how long will he ignore this disastrous situation?
Indeed, how long? The people of ancient Israel would resonate with that cry because they had become a people in exile. Even by Jesus’ day their freedom to live in their own land was limited and controlled by the Romans. They were a people in exile at home. Certainly when the everyday Israelite saw centurions marching through town or, even worse, witnessed the occasional crucifixion of Jewish offenders, the cry would well up: How long, O Lord?
When Jesus was born, few people anticipated that he was the answer to that prayer, How long? Herod saw the birth as a threat to his throne and staged a quick infanticide to address his fears. Years later the religious leaders of Jerusalem would employ the power of Rome to do away with Jesus, again fearing a threat to their dominance. Waiting for God is rarely convenient for those who hold all the power.
In the season of Advent we reflect on the coming of Jesus at his birth. At the same time, we look forward to his coming again, when God recreates the heavens and the earth, and his kingdom comes in its fullness. But what about in between? Are we, like the ancient Israelites, left alone to wonder, How long?
The amazing thing about the two Advents is that the space in between is not devoid of God. God’s presence has been promised to us in another Advent—the ongoing presence of the Holy Spirit. It is through God’s Spirit that Jesus’ claim is made good:
“And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b)
We are not left alone, and God has not left the building.