Advent: Faith

I don’t think this is a particularly hot take, but I love Dr. Seuss. Our house is full of all kinds of children’s books and I’ve logged five years of reading them for about 30 minutes each day, and Seuss is easily in the top three. My favorite is a tie between The Lorax and Fox in Socks, but high on the list, mainly for its rhythm, is Oh the Places You’ll Go.

The story of Oh the Places You’ll Go is that of a young boy who has brains in his head and feet in his shoes who can steer himself any direction that he choose. His life has ups and downs – he gets stuck in a lurch and a slump (and unslumping oneself is not easily done) and at one point he gets famous because of the things he can do with a ball. But at one point after the unslumping, the boy heads towards a place which Seuss dubs “the most useless” place: The Waiting Place.

This, of course, is for people just waiting. “Waiting for the fish to bite, or waiting for wind to fly a kite, or waiting around for Friday night, or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake, or a pot to boil or a better break. Everyone is just waiting!” And Seuss promptly offers his commentary on this waiting place: “NO! That’s not for you! Somehow you’ll escape all that waiting and staying.” And of course, the boy faces up to his problems and paddles up many a frightening creek where enemies prowl and Hakken-Kraks howl. But these things can’t stop the boy because he has mountains to move. And will the boy succeed? Yes! He will indeed! (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed)

The second week of Advent beckons us to consider the idea of faith. Faith is the means of our salvation – it is by grace we are saved through faith. In fact “without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Heb. 11:6) This is what he wants from us – faith that he has died and will come again to save and redeem us.

Now, many of us understand faith as a mental assent to a doctrine. In other words, we have faith that Jesus rose from the dead. We believe in our minds and hearts, with a dash of doubt now and then, that this happened. During the Advent season, as we look back to the first coming of Christ, we look ahead in faith to his return. We haven’t seen this happen yet, but we believe that it will.

But I would like to suggest that faith is not simply mental assent; no, faith involves the way that we live. In fact, if you go to the most famous faith-focused chapter in the Bible you will see that faith is demonstrated by action. Noah’s faith is seen in building the ark. Abraham obeyed and went. Moses left Egypt. Many martyrs faced horrible death and suffering. These things, the Scripture says, were done by faith

Now, I don’t know much about Seussian theology (One Fish, Two Fish doesn’t give much away), but for as much as I enjoy Oh the Places, I believe that his idea about waiting missed the mark. Consider this psalm: “Wait for the LORD; be strong and courageous. Wait for the LORD”. (Psalm 27:14) 

Waiting, contrary to Seuss, is an action of faith. It takes a lot of faith to wait. The Israelites were people who wanted to carve out their own future and ensure their own protection against enemies. Time and time again, the kings of Israel are rebuked for putting their trust in human alliances. David is rebuked for taking a census, probably because he was trying to ensure his might against his enemies. People did not wait, they strived to ensure the outcome they wanted. This angered the Lord, because he alone was their strength and might. He alone would rescue, save and protect.

So the stubborn people of God are sent into exile where they are forced to do one thing – wait. And in exile, the waiting place, the prophets would say lots of things like this: “O LORD, be gracious to us; we wait for you. Be our arm every morning, our salvation in the time of trouble.” (Is. 33:2) Or this: “but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (Is. 40:31)

Many will enter this Christmas season in a harder place than usual, perhaps even a waiting place. And in response, hoping for life to progress in the direction we want, will make a New Year’s resolution to be better in some way. “Covid can’t hold me down!” you may say. 

“Wait,” says God. He calls us to wait on him. This doesn’t mean “do nothing,” but waiting requires faith because waiting involves not putting your faith in human solutions to problems. Faithful waiting means letting God work on God’s time. Faithful waiting means looking at an unsure future and remembering that God is your provider. Faithful waiting sometimes means staying in the muck for a while. Faithful waiting means living as if he alone is your rescuer, savior, and redeemer.

Faithful waiting sometimes means staying in the muck for a while. Faithful waiting means living as if he alone is your rescuer, savior, and redeemer.

How are you taking matters into your own hands this Christmas? How are you turning your back on that waiting place because it’s “not for you, all that waiting and staying”? Could it be that God wants to use this waiting place to teach you that man does not live by bread alone? Let us not miss this moment to learn to live by faith. 

This Christmas, we look back to Mary, faithfully waiting on Jesus to be born. And we look to the heavens, faithfully waiting for him to return. Will your time in the interim be faithful? Will you lean on him? Or will you take matters into your hands to move your mountains? Let us wait on the Lord, for our hope is in him coming to make things new. And will He succeed? Yes! He will indeed. (100 percent guaranteed)

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