Expedited is expected (Second Advent)

I don’t remember who said it. It was an email or an online pop-up ad, probably from FedEx or some other shipping company. The tagline was, “Expedited is expected” — the message being that no one with an ounce of business sense would dare ship something by standard shipping. People want their stuff, and they want it now. Expedite it, or your customers will go elsewhere.

I understand the sentiment. In recent years, especially with the entry of Amazon Prime into the online marketplace, we’ve come to expect being able to have just about anything delivered quickly to our front doors. The pandemic has only heightened that expectation by turning what was a convenience into a necessity. Hey, where’s my dinner? I ordered it a good twenty minutes ago!

But the season of Advent wants to teach us something different: the ability to wait.

. . .

Patience is a virtue, we’re told. Agreed. But I’ve never been that good at it. I don’t like waiting in long lines. I don’t like slow traffic. I don’t like it when my computer starts to bog down, making me wait almost a whole minute — a minute! — to load a program. It actually tempts me to say, “Man, this machine is so slow — I think it’s time to buy a new one.”

Impatience, unfortunately, can get expensive.

I imagine the biblical writers just scratching their heads in puzzlement at all this. They would marvel at the speed of our technologically-driven society. You can get from here to there in just a matter of hours? Do you know how many sandals and camels and boats we’d have to wear out just to get there in months? And you can talk to someone far away that you can’t even see, right now, in an instant? How is that even possible? We take such things so much for granted that we don’t see how silly it is to chafe over a few lost seconds.

For them, patience was measured in days, years, even centuries. Abraham was promised a son. It would take 25 years for the promise to be fulfilled — but in the meantime, he and Sarah decided to expedite the process through Hagar. Moses took too long on the mountain, and the people on the plain below got tired of waiting for a God to worship. Again, they expedited the process, a disastrous mistake for which many paid with their lives.

And so it goes. The Israelites had to wait for an entire rebellious generation to die out as they wandered in the wilderness, waiting to take possession of the so-called Promised Land. Much later, in Babylonian exile, the people were told by the prophet Jeremiah that they might as well settle in and make nice, because God wouldn’t bring them out for seventy years.

After a remnant of Israel returned from exile, they had to wait through centuries of divine silence before the coming of Jesus — and even then, many refused to recognize him as the one for whom they had been waiting. And here we are, two millennia after the cross and resurrection, awaiting Jesus’ promised return.

We’ve been waiting so long, I suspect that for most of us the return of Jesus isn’t really part of our expectation. Yes, yes, yes — I know it will happen someday. But what does that have to do with me? Our time horizon is typically much shorter. Often, our expectations go no further than the day of our death. And if the truth be told, much of the time, our horizons are limited to the time span of free two-day shipping.

. . .

What can Advent mean in such a context?

Quite possibly, not much.

It all depends on what we’re waiting for. We’ll think about that together next week, on the Third Sunday of Advent.