Waiting around?

On Christmas Eve, my wife and I popped along to the local parish church for the Christmas Communion service. It was good and, as always, realigned our focus on what the season is all about.

bored2As we walked home afterwards, close to midnight, my mind went back over the words of some of the carols. The service had opened with Once in royal David’s city. It’s a traditional element of any carol service. Starting with the ‘lowly cattle shed’ where Jesus was born, it traces his life right through to his ascension and glory. Then, to bring it all to an inspiring conclusion, it reminds us that we can look forward to being with him one day to behold that glory, and to share in it.

But the way the carol describes this is a huge let-down, and I confess that—not for the first time—I had to smother a snigger as we came to the closing words. Here’s how the last verse goes:

Not in that poor lowly stable
With the oxen standing by
We shall see him, but in heaven
Set at God’s right hand on high,
When like stars his children crowned
All in white shall wait around.

What? Wait around?

I don’t know what this image conjures up for you. But to me it brings up a picture of a scruffily-dressed unemployed person slouching on a street corner, cigarette hanging from his lips, staring into his mobile phone, desperately bored and thinking, ‘Anything must be better than this aimless existence!’

I’m sure that’s not what Mrs C.F. Alexander, the 19th century author, intended, but I have to say this wasn’t her greatest moment of literary achievement. Or of theological clarity, either. She tags along with the notion that we will one day escape this grim material world and float off to a ‘spiritual’ existence in heaven where, dressed ‘all in white’, we will walk about on 24-carat gold pavements, play harps and sing endless worship songs. Let’s face it: that is not an appealing prospect, especially when you throw in the ‘waiting around’.

No, the great Christian hope is far more gutsy and inspiring than that. It’s the kingdom of God in its fulness, when heaven—God’s dimension—comes to a renewed earth; when we get new bodies, like the one Jesus had after his resurrection; when sin and sadness, tears, sickness, depression and death are forever banished; when we live lavishly, enjoying all our human powers to the full. There will be creativity and art, music, maths, research, walks in the mountains, good food and drink, warm friendship, benign animal-friends, laughter, language-learning, choirs and astronomy. And a million blessings besides in the company of our God and Saviour.

This is the prospect that keeps us going. It’s what our minds turn to when the pressures of this fallen world gang up on us and threaten to crush us. It’s what enables us to face death with equanimity, knowing that it is just the gateway to something far better.

That’s what Christmas signals. The incarnation marked the beginning of God’s breaking into our broken society with the solid prospect of hope and a future. And it’s a future far better than ‘waiting around’ on a golden street corner!

7 Responses to Waiting around?

  1. Dee Hopper says:

    I agree about the ‘waiting around’. That does sound like an anti-climax. 😢
    However I was a little distressed to find that your concept of heaven includes maths. I do hope not!
    Perhaps there will be options as there were at school?

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    • The maths, I’m sure, Dee, will be only for those for whom it is a delight. For the rest of us, no doubt there will be brilliant alternatives, like geography field trips to the Galapagos!

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  2. Richard Robinson says:

    Maybe the “waiting” refers more to the role of waiter, attend to the Lord’s bidding, waiting on his command? Those that wait on the Lord (attend to Him in anticipation of hearing Him speak) shall renew their strength.

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    • That could be so, Richard. Pity we can’t get inside the author’s head and find out, eh! We can be clearer about the Isaiah 40:31 referernce. ‘Wait upon’ or ‘wait for’ in the older versions is rendered ‘hope in’, ‘look to’, or similar in more recent versions. One typical authority defines the Hebrew word as ‘to have trust or confidence in someone, especially as regards the future’. Mrs Alexander would be familiar with the older English versions. I don’t know what her level of Hebrew knowledge was, but most probably she took the ‘wait upon’ either in the ‘hanging around for’ sense, or in your suggested alternative of adopting the attitude of a waiter in a restaurant. All interesting speculation! The main thing, I’m sure you will agree, is that you and I continue to live our lives looking always to the Lord’s interests, with a desire to obey him in everything. Thanks for taking the trouble to comment.

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  3. general@studio1productions.co.uk says:

    Hi David,

    I found a number of our choruses that fell into that category as I am sure you did as well.

    Trust you have had a good Christmas and that next year will be one of great enjoyment.

    Ian

    Tel: 01924 281970

    Fax: 08727510970

    Mobile: 07990591188

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  4. MARTIN HANNINGTON says:

    Who knows, in the twinkling of an eye, maths, mountain walking and astrology might suddenly become my thing, while in no hurry to find out – its something to look forward to. Thanks for your reminder.

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  5. Richard Robinson says:

    Your first thoughts about “wait around” are funny, though. I had the same thoughts about this Christmas, so it’s comforting to know I wasn’t alone.

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