It can be no accident that a human’s gestation period is 40 weeks. We see the number 40 appear many times in scripture surrounding periods of trial and waiting, testing and longing. The importance of waiting well is not lost on me even as, at the time of this writing, my son’s due date has come and gone by four days and I am anxious to meet him! I am grateful that this period has a terminus; even if it is unpredictable, it is certain. Even if it is unknown, it is promised–much the same as the coming of Jesus.
I can imagine Eve’s anxious longing for redemption in the birth of Cain. Having sinned, she was immediately given an incredible promise that there would be enmity between the deceiver and her, that her seed would bruise him on the head, though he would be stricken on the heel (Gen. 3:15). She gives birth to Cain with the words, “I have gotten a man child with the help of the Lord” (Gen 4:1). Though I may be speculating, one can almost hear a breath of relief as she receives her firstborn son. But it was not time. It was still promised, but not yet time.
One sees precursors of this as Israel spends 400 years in slavery, crying out for a deliverer. One is sent, but their own disobedience leads them into 40 years of waiting for the promise of full delivery into the land that God had promised them. In that time, God gives them yet another promise of a coming prophet greater than Moses (Deut. 18:15), but though Joshua and others proceed Moses’ leadership, it is clear that there is a greater fulfillment yet to be seen.
As the later prophet Malachi closes his book, he promises the great and terrible day of the Lord, ushered in by Elijah the prophet, who will “restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers…” (Malachi 4:6). What commences is 400 years of prophetic silence and the subsequent rule and oppression of Israel by other nations.
A promise is ready to be birthed, but when? Who can predict the coming of this moment? Who can sustain the hope of fulfillment in the process of waiting?
But thanks be to God that approximately 4,000 years after the promise was given to Eve, a young virgin girl was visited by an Angel, and received the word given by Isaiah many centuries earlier that a son would be given to us as a savior who would redeem us from the curse of sin.
All of the waiting, all of the hope of humanity, all of which was certain, but none of which was predictable was fulfilled in the course of 40 weeks, and a virgin gave birth to her firstborn son.
Now, 2,000 years later, we await Jesus’ coming once again. Maintaining this expectation through the trial of waiting requires a fitting response, which is why having a solid eschatology of longing for Jesus’ coming rulership makes us the most effective ministers. The immediacy with which I desire Him creates an urgency in my activities, increases my desire for obedience, and turns my attention away from lesser things. These activities are comprised of a combination of making preparation, contending in hope, and resting in the confidence of His coming.
I draw a similar picture between my experience now and this larger spiritual reality. Even as I wait a mere 4 days after my son’s due date, anxious, impatient, eager, and hopeful, it begins to feel like, “Will this ever happen?” I’m trying to balance the ensuing time with that same mixture of preparation, hope, and rest. Expectation is so important for this reason. Cultivating expectation determines my responses.
Because he could come at any moment, I am regularly keeping my house clean and my pantry stocked. I’m looking for any other undone projects that, at this point may not really matter, but would also be helpful to have done and taken care of.
I’m also fighting the fear and frustration of why he is late. I’ve searched my heart for any emotions undealt with, prayed over his little heart, and fought to quell the imaginings of various disastrous scenarios of what could happen if he continues to delay. Maintaining the hope of an uncomplicated, healthy deliver requires some energy against all of the possibilities that constantly bombard me. Additionally, it is a fight to maintain hope that no matter what happens or how it looks, it will be a beautiful and blessed moment when I get to welcome my son into this world.
Finally, there’s eventually an end to the cleaning, clothing organization, and food preparation. There’s an end to working through scenarios. There’s a moment when rest must prevail. Trust takes over and I remember that no human has been presented to this world except by this process. I’ve searched my heart. My house and my job is in order. This period of trial, testing, and preparation has culminated in believing once again that, though it is still unpredictable, the promise of this little one’s coming is certain and true.
As we enter into this Christmas season, and once again reflect on Jesus’ coming, let our hearts be stirred to fresh preparation, fresh hope, fresh peace. Though the wait is long, we can take heart in the many generations before us who have experienced the faithfulness of God to fulfill His promises, unpredictable as they may be. Let us watch and pray and expect the day.