What Are You Waiting For?

What Are You Waiting For? December 2, 2018

Stumbled on this depressing piece somewhere or other on twitter. It begins this way,

If you are the sort of person who needs the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to inform you that Americans are miserable, it’s now official. According to the nation’s top public health agency, the rate at which we are killing ourselves is higher than it has been in half a century. Fifty years of relentless technological advances, social liberalization, optimization, and GDP growth, five decades that brought about the end of Soviet communism and the birth of a new global order based on free trade and open communication and an infinite array of goods and services and what have we got to show for it? Suicide.

and goes on from there. Higher than ever drug use, social problems without number, isolated and lonely teenagers, a fractured political sphere, and to fix it, one listicle after another—he doesn’t say that, but if you wander around the internet, that’s what you’ll find. His solution is grander and more impossible than all the usual lists of ways to deal with your gnawing anxiety. What the world needs now is, he writes linking to that song, Love Sweet Love. I listened to it all the way through and then wandered away to read, out of habit, the lectionary page.

It’s the first Sunday of Advent and so that means that it’s completely acceptable to think about the end of the world. Jesus himself does in the last part of Luke’s gospel, going in to Jerusalem as he does every day leading up to his own death,

And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.

Look at the fig tree he goes on. You know how to tell when summer is coming. It’s not that hard. When the leaves appear, you know that the winter is over. So you should be able to look around you and know, because of the signs I am giving you, that the end is nigh. So for millennia we have pried our eyes open and panicked nearly all the time. It must be now, we cry. It can’t get any worse. And then it does. And so we wait. And while we wait we invent gadgets to make life easier and in the process make ourselves more miserable than ever before.

Then, being foolish, preferring the darkness we have just created to any true light, we look back at ourselves for the solution. Having invented the steam engine, the railway, the self-driving car, heroin, and the iPhone, we must be able to invent its antidote. But if you give birth to the whirlwind, you’re probably not in the best position to make it stop and clear up all the rubble. That is our curious and calamitous humanity. We can see what’s wrong, enumerate it for ourselves with an ocean of words, but then are unwilling and unable to face the true and only way to mend it.

“Watch yourselves,” says Jesus, probably taking a cue from the lectionary committee who paired his discourse with Psalm 25. “For you I wait all day long,” says the Psalmist, making a case that God should not let him be put to shame, that his enemies should not get the upper hand, that the wicked should not be allowed to win for any reason. “Turn to me and be gracious to me,” he cries, “for I am lonely and afflicted.” And then he concludes, “I wait for you.”

What are we waiting for? Because in some sense we all are, as we scroll and scroll, depression and anxiety mounting up like the tsunami the Alaskans don’t have to watch for any more. Wait for the Lord says the Bible, in its near totality, and we squint and wonder what it is going on about. All the children of America are waiting to be given a lot of stuff at the end of the month. And a lot of adults are already waiting for this next election cycle to finally be over. And if you have to go back to work on Monday you can wait for that. It’s the waiting that makes life so painful. And if you’re waiting for something that you don’t even really want, than it can be hard to continue continue, and so you might want to give up.

Is love, then, the solution? Listen to the crooning voice of Jackie DeShannon, understand the problem, and then go out and…do what? Just love really really hard? With all your might? Put down your phone, invest in your community, repent of your wrong ideas and…then what? At the end of the day it was still you, you loving as best you could, but it wasn’t enough.

No, you do need love, but it’s not the love that you create—that perfect, life-changing meme that convinces all your friends and relations that they needed to love more and better. It’s not enough that you see what’s wrong and try harder in the morning, counting down the sleepless moments until you get to face the gray dawn. You need to go back to the beginning of the psalm, you need to stare hard at Jesus, even when he is talking about the apocalypse. “To you, O Lord,” says the psalmist, “I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I put my trust.”

Not the tossed away cursing oath of a dying, hopeless generation—instead, a true cry for help. If you cry out to the one who has the power to break into the pressing darkness, and then trusting, steel yourself to wait, you will not any longer be scrolling and complaining in vain. One thing follows on another. As surely as summer follows winter, as the seed that falls into the ground and dies is raised up into the biggest and most glorious tree, as the rain and snow fall and then fall again, the one who calls upon the Lord, who lifts up his soul, and then waits, will never be put to shame.

What the world needs now is the alien, perfect, sufficient love of the one who is strong enough to rescue it out of the pit that it has dug for itself. And you, you who are in the world, lift up your head, lift up your soul. Wait for the Lord. He came once, the perfect love of God to overcome the sin and confusion of humanity. He is coming again. He is your sure and certain hope. You need not fear, nor dread his approach. Watch, then, with eagerness, and wait, for your salvation is near.

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