Come thou long expected Jesus born to set thy people free; from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee. ~ Charles Wesley
The Old Testament is full of stories about waiting for the Messiah that had been promised. The Messiah, when he comes, will make things right again as they should be. The Messiah will rescue them from the oppressors. The Messiah will be King. The people wait, and yet he does not come. The promise remains unfulfilled. The plaintive cry, filled with desperate longing, goes heavenward, “How long?” It is filled with dashed hopes and unrealized expectations.
How long, O Lord, will you leave us alone with ourselves?
How long before you rescue us and do something about this dark and messy world?
How long before you stop hunger and homelessness?
How long before you stop the wars and rumors of wars? Mass killings? Hatred?
How long before you show yourself in our darkness?
How long before you heal our hearts from so much grief?
How long before you show yourself in so many of the painful and unacceptable feelings that reside deep inside to keep us from acknowledging them?
How long before you reveal your purpose in our sufferings and unresolved issues?
How long before you heal us?
How long will it take for you to come again as you have promised?
How long? How long? How long?
Search any concordance and you will easily notice how often this question is asked in the scriptures. In Psalm 13:1, King David asks, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” Sometimes, we feel the same way.
This sounds discouraging doesn’t it? But we are children of the promise, also, and we are not to live as those who have no hope. We need to remind ourselves of that. We are just about to finish the first week of Advent where our focus has been on waiting in Hope. This is very timely, I believe, considering the darkness of the world, today…like then. It is easy to feel hopeless, but we are called to be people of Hope. It is not something we can get by working hard, though, because Hope is a fruit of the Spirit. It’s not one of the fruit listed in Galatians 5, but it is a fruit nonetheless. All fruit is formed by staying attached to the Vine, so hang on tight.
But, listen! I also hear in that plaintive “How Long?” wail, the longing of God who wants his family back. God asks in Psalm 4:2, “How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame? How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies?” A new thing is starting to take place, but it’s not really the beginning of it. Ever since Adam and Eve left the Garden in Genesis 3, God’s cries out to us, “Where are you?” And, “How long? How long will you hide from me. When will you do something about the cries of the people? I hope for your return. We can work together. I love you.”
“Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the world thou art; dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.”
“We pray Lord God that we, as apprentices of your Son Jesus, for whom we have waited and are awaiting still in hope, may so love and obediently serve you in what you call us to do that darkness will be banished, your justice will be established, and violence will be no more. We pray that the glimmer of light we now see in the midst of the darkness will grow by the power of your Spirit, beginning with us and spreading outward until your Kingdom is established on earth. Come, Lord Jesus. AMEN.”