Good Things Come…Just Wait
The hospital nurse announces that you’re finally going home today, but shortly before nightfall, you’re still waiting for the doctor to sign off on your release. The words patient and patience are derived from the Latin patior, which means, “to suffer,” so we’re undoubtedly called patients because of the insufferable patience required in hospitals and doctor’s offices!
When I was a kid, waiting for Christmas to finally arrive felt like an interminable hospital stay. Now, Christmas comes quicker than an unpaid hospital bill.
Advent’s spirit of waiting may be symbolized in Zechariah, even though the season is more synonymous with his son, John the Baptist. Zechariah anticipated the coming of the Messiah, as did his prophetic namesake centuries before him. Zechariah the priest waited patiently for his week of duty in the Temple—allocated by lot—to burn incense on the altar every morning and evening.
He was in the Temple waiting on God when the angel Gabriel told him he and his wife would become parents of a son, despite their advanced age. What Presbyterian theologian Frederick Buechner wrote about the surprise pregnancy of childless, elderly Sarah and husband Abraham can be said of Zechariah and Elizabeth: “[A] baby’s being born in the geriatric ward and Medicare’s picking up the tab.” Moreover, Zechariah had to wait nine months for his voice to return after being muted by Gabriel for his incredulity.
Like Zechariah’s incense that rose in prayerful sacrifice at the beginning and end of each day, Christians recite the Canticle of Zechariah every morning and the Canticle of Mary every evening—both from the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel.
At daybreak we pray, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, he has come to his people and set them free” (Luke 1:68). Zechariah praises God for showing “mercy to our fathers” and for remembering “his holy covenant” (Luke 1:72). Likewise, after Mary entered Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth, she praises God for rewarding Israel’s patience in trusting that he would keep his promises: “He has come to the help of his servant Israel for he has remembered his promise of mercy, the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children for ever” (Luke 1:54–55). Adding depth to this meaningful Gospel is the definition of the name Zechariah: “God has remembered.”
God remembering to fulfill his promise of mercy is what Christmas is all about! “God has remembered” is an ideal prayer to repeat quietly anytime our patience is tested during this busy season and always.
However, if this patience gets stretched to its limit, let’s aim to be more elevated than Michelangelo when he painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Pope Julius II, who commissioned him, likely desired an image of Jesus over the front door to bless the entrance of the pope. Michelangelo portrayed Zechariah instead, but he cleverly painted the face of Pope Julius on the prophet to appease the egotistical pontiff. Then, to express his feelings about laboring with insufferable patience for four and a half years to paint the ceiling, Michelangelo included two innocent angelic figures looking over the prophet’s shoulder. One is making a medieval obscene hand gesture at the back of Pope Julius’ head. One can thus conclude that the great artist lost his patience. With God’s help, we can keep ours.