I’ve always wondered about a line from ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’. It leaves me a bit puzzled. The line is, ‘Late in time, behold Him come’. I suppose the meaning is that the Son of God comes in the latter part of history, rather than that He comes later than He should. Surely it can’t mean that God’s plan is behind schedule? But what if we struggle with God’s timing?
Sometimes it can feel like God is late. Our prayers seem to be unheard, our longings unsatisfied and our questions unanswered. God isn’t late, our prayers are always heard, our longings are always satisfied and our questions are always answered – eventually. It’s the ‘eventually’ part that can be so difficult for us, though. Life isn’t lived in straight lines, and faith doesn’t grow on polished boughs. Our lives bend and bow under the pressures and uncertainties we face. We have to find a way of twisting and turning with life as it happens around us. We need a faith that can flex.
Of course, I do not mean a faith that loses its footing, or a belief that bows to cultural demands or dictats. Rather, I mean a faith that digs into the character of God; a conviction about Who God is and What God is like that is deeply rooted in His revelation to us through His Son, through His word and by His Spirit. It is only as we are anchored in Who God has revealed Himself to be that we can find a way of having a belief that can bend without breaking.
It seems to me that, for such a flexible, yet firm, faith to flourish in my life, it needs to be one that is given to me as a gift on God’s terms and not on mine. In that sense, I need to learn what it is to recieve faith rather than generate it, because faith is always a gift, isn’t it? So Paul’s words to the Galatians help me to understand how God’s timing builds my faith rather than breaking it. ‘When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son’ (Galatians 4:2).
Christ was not late in time; He came just in time. At the right moment politically, linguistically, culturally, theologically and historically, God’s Son arrived. Is this also true of God’s interactions with me personally? God’s timing may cause me confusion, it may make me ask questions, it may leaving me scratching my head in bewilderment sometimes; but the sense of questioning that God’s timing creates is not something that should create fatalism in us. Instead, wrestling with His timing strengthens our faith ‘muscles’; but only if we learn how to wrestle with all of our strength whilst at the same time yielding to His ultimate wisdom and purpose.
I’m thinking through ideas of sovereignty at the moment. The assumed inevitability of some ideas of sovereignty smell more like fatalism than faith to me. The passive acceptance of such ideas of sovereignty is not what I see in the pleading of Abraham or Moses or Hannah or Ruth. Jacob’s wrestling teaches me that trust in the sovereignty of God is active, engaged… and jolly hard. I see the same wrestling, the same powerful and deliberate battle in intercession, in the relationships between God and Israel, God and the prophets; we see it between God and Mary; we see it between the Father and the Son.
Trusting God’s timing is closely related to trusting God’s sovereignty. It’s not easy. It’s a battle. It’s not supposed to be easy. God’s purposes and our sense of good timing confront one another from time to time. When that happens, we are faced with a challenging, faith-stretching choice. Will we trust Him when we don’t understand Him, or will we demand explanation before trust is given?
No one individual is entitled to more questions about timing and sovereignty than Mary. No people group is entitled to more questions about God’s timing than the Jews. The Church of Jesus Christ has faced many profound and mysterious challenges around God’s purposes and timing in our history. There are lessons from all three for us, I think.
So, in the end, I think perhaps my wrestling with God’s timing itself becomes a means of God deepening my faith. My faith can only grow through being stretched, and the stretching can only happen when God’s purposes and mine confront one another. In those situations, God must always win.
I must learn to trust Him in the moments that I do not understand Him. He does not come to me late in time, He comes to me at the right time. Saying that and living it are two different things, though. Advent reminds me that God’s timing is not the same as mine. It is an annual invitation to re-set my rhythm. What I do with the invitation is up to me.
(C) Malcolm J. Duncan (Advent 2019)