Musician Alanna Glover reflects on Mary’s song and the hope we share in Jesus' birth.
DR LOUISE GOSBELL
For our fifth Advent 2023 devotional, Dr Louise Gosbell explores the anticipation and expectation we have in this in-between space of waiting for the Lord.
I Waited Patiently for the Lord
I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the desolate pit,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord.
Happy are those who make
the Lord their trust,
who do not turn to the proud,
to those who go astray after false gods.
You have multiplied, O Lord my God,
your wondrous deeds and your thoughts towards us;
none can compare with you.
Were I to proclaim and tell of them,
they would be more than can be counted.
Sacrifice and offering you do not desire,
but you have given me an open ear.
Burnt-offering and sin-offering
you have not required.
Then I said, ‘Here I am;
in the scroll of the book it is written of me.
I delight to do your will, O my God;
your law is within my heart.’
I have told the glad news of deliverance
in the great congregation;
see, I have not restrained my lips,
as you know, O Lord.
I have not hidden your saving help within my heart,
I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
from the great congregation.
Do not, O Lord, withhold
your mercy from me;
let your steadfast love and your faithfulness
keep me safe for ever.
For evils have encompassed me
my iniquities have overtaken me,
until I cannot see;
they are more than the hairs of my head,
and my heart fails me.
Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me;
O Lord, make haste to help me.
Let all those be put to shame and confusion
who seek to snatch away my life;
let those be turned back and brought to dishonour
who desire my hurt.
Let those be appalled because of their shame
who say to me, ‘Aha, Aha!’
But may all who seek you
rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who love your salvation
say continually, ‘Great is the Lord!’
As for me, I am poor and needy,
but the Lord takes thought for me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
do not delay, O my God.
So much of our lives are spent waiting. Waiting for public transport. Waiting for our package from eBay. Waiting for the next season of our favourite TV show to drop on Netflix. Waiting for the school holidays to arrive so we can spend time with the family and then waiting for the school holidays to end so we can finally get a bit of peace!
In fact, the average person spends 5 years of their life waiting in lines and queues and almost six months of that time is spent waiting at traffic lights! But I’m not sure most of us could say that we wait patiently through all that waiting. Sure, we are forced to wait, but that’s not the same thing as waiting patiently.
I feel like I’ve had to learn a little something about waiting over the last two years. In January 2022, I developed a significant health issue. I was initially told my issue would resolve in a matter of weeks and was directed by medical professionals to rest and wait until I ‘got better.’ But as the weeks, months, and eventually the years rolled on, I didn’t get ‘better.’ Though I am better than what I was (or at least, better medicated!), I am not better in the sense of being completely well. I have had to come to terms with what it means to now live in this space of being not quite better. This place in-between.
I have found this feeling of in-betweenness challenging to explain to people. I’m not as sick as I was at the beginning of 2022 but I’m nowhere near back to the health I enjoyed prior to that sickness. I’ve come to realise that as humans, we like things to be one thing or another. We are sick or we are well. We are frustrated or we are content. We are happy or we are sad. We aren’t very good at being in the in-between. I think this is why we don’t like all the queues and waiting – we want to be at the next place, doing the next thing. We don’t want to feel in-betweeness and simply waiting for that next thing to happen.
And yet, the reality is, all of us live in this in-between space all the time. As Christians we recognise we live in a time in history between Jesus’ first coming but while we still await His return. We are guided by scripture to use this time well – to love others and care for the world, our common home, God has entrusted to us – but not to hang on to worldly things too tightly because we know they will pass away. Sometimes we forget that we live in this in-betweenness given the busyness of our lives. We get caught up in the pressures, stress, and even the joys of this life now. Other times, during challenging times, during seasons of loss or grief or ill health, we have a deep sense of the in-betweenness and we desperately seek the reprieve that will come with the return of the Messiah. Like the Psalmist, our cry to God is “do not delay!” This is the complexity of life in the in-between.
When the writer of Psalm 40 finds himself on uncertain ground, he cries out to God. He doesn’t call out in a general way, with only a vague hope that some far away divine entity might respond. Instead, he calls out to God and then he is willing to wait patiently for God to act. How is it that in the middle of uncertainty that the Psalmist can wait patiently?
His patience comes from a deep-seated knowledge that the Lord will act. The Psalmist knows that God is faithful and always keeps His promises.
How can the Psalmist have such unwavering confidence? For all the reasons he goes on to explain! The Psalmist knows of the great wonders God has done. He attests to God’s saving acts. He knows that God is a deliverer. Even though his feet are on unsteady ground, the Psalmist doesn’t panic but trusts that God will respond and act. He can wait with patience only because of the confidence he has that God will always remain faithful to His own character. God will act. God will offer salvation.
Our position now is a little different to the Psalmist. He was awaiting the first arrival of the Messiah, while we await His return. And yet the promise to God’s people remains the same. Jesus assured us He will return. We can still have confidence in this message of good news, that we are reminded of each Advent, despite the passing of so much time. For now, we have to continue to navigate this life in-between. For now, we continue to live in the in-betweenness of the ‘already’ and the ‘not-yet.’ But we live in this in-betweenness with confidence and certainty that God will act. Like the Psalmist, we can have confidence that the in-betweenness will not last forever because He has proven Himself faithful over and over again. This is the foundation for our patient waiting. And so for now, we continue to enjoy the good times of the in-between and grieve the hard times of the in-between.
But all the while, as we live in this space in the in-between, we can wait patiently with anticipation and expectation, with a confidence and certainty, we can rejoice and be glad in the Lord, with the deep knowledge that He is our help and our deliverer.
Dr Louise Gosbell is the research manager at Australian College of Theology. She is a New Testament scholar, a disability advocate and avid U2 fan. Louise is married to Mark and they have three grown up-ish daughters as well as three cats.