Waiting in the Dark
Last month in this space I mentioned that Scripture frequently describes God’s word as coming to people in the dark of night. Some of our best moments of revelation come when we acknowledge our uncertainty and wait for God nonetheless.
Not long after, I came across a column that reached a similar conclusion about patient waiting, but from a different Biblical image. David Henson (“The Breaking of the Bridesmaids”) argued that the error of the foolish bridesmaids (Matthew 25:1-13) was not their failure to bring enough oil. It was their unwillingness to wait, in the dark and without adequate supplies, for the bridegroom’s arrival.
Now, I’m not sure I’m persuaded by Henson’s exegesis. But I found his thought experiment spot-on. If the oil-less bridesmaids had waited in the dark for the arrival of the bridegroom, would he have let them join the party? As Henson put it, “The bridal couple surely would have welcomed their friends into the light of their banquet, unconcerned about the state of their oil lamps, happy just to see their friends waiting for them.”
If Henson is right, then the best thing we can do, when the night is deep and the darkness crawls in, is to wait. Not to run off in search of something that will make us feel ready.
The story of the bridesmaids reminds me of Advent. During Advent, we light what we can against the encroaching darkness and prepare once again for the coming Light of the World. We wait for Christmas. And sometimes we are unprepared.
Of course, we know that Advent will end on schedule, somewhere between sunset on Christmas Eve and sunrise on Christmas Day. The arrival of the Bridegroom, however, cannot be calendared. The Word will come only in God’s time. And that is hard.
In retrospect, 2014 seems an unusually dark year. Whether I was reading Presbytery-related emails or the national news, I struggled to see the coming reign of God. Against the shadows, my lamp has burned dim.
I don’t like wondering how long the darkness will last before God acts. If it were up to me, the ten virgins would fill up their lamps, get out their maps, and go find the Bridegroom.
But the God of the Bible seems much less concerned with my plans and preparations than with my trust. Do I believe that God will welcome me in, unprepared and apprehensive though I may be? Will I wait in the dark, eyes straining to glimpse the Light, rather than running off in search of reassurance?
For the Bridegroom will come. Scripture testifies, in fact, that the Bridegroom has come, and has already triumphed over the darkness: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5).
We do not yet see that triumph fulfilled except by eyes of faith. But we wait on the promise that we will see it in God’s good time, and that it will have been infinitely worth the wait.
Blessed Advent to you—