I am not what you might call a "patient person". When I was a little girl, I remember as young as five my favorite thing to do was to daydream about my future and map it out on a mental timeline. I decided that I would get married at 23, have my children starting at 25, and become a famous broadway actress by 30. I could hardly wait for those days to begin. Everyday, I would ask my mother as soon as I woke up, "what are we doing today?", which always annoyed my free spirited, artist mother who didn't always have a play-by-play schedule for me. I am now an artist, and one of the most frustrating mediums for me is paint. I avoided it for years, in part because I was impatient at learning how to do it, and in another part because the literal waiting on paint to dry-- even the 10 minutes it takes sometimes-- is just too much for me. And the worst of all was Christmas. We we get home from a midnight Christmas Eve service, and I never quite understood why I had to go to bed if it was already technically Christmas day-- why did I have to wait hours more to see what Santa had brought? (The truth was that "Santa", who had just performed 4 Christmas Eve services, still had to put together all my toys... haha). I just hated the waiting.
Advent is known as a season of waiting, of anticipation and expectation of the coming of Christ. Perhaps that's why I am always a little uncomfortable with it. I do much better with Lent-- I can confess my sin and show acts of penitence all day-- but Advent, this waiting, it is hard. Americanized, Norman Rockwell Christmas looks perfectly content with this season. There are Christmas decorations up in October, with all its glitz and sparkle reminding you, like every sign in Hobby Lobby, "it's the most wonderful time of the year!". It's as if culture is telling us, "come December 1st (or the day after Thanksgiving, or whenever you decide to "put up Christmas" in your house), all will be right again".
And yet, you and I know, that just isn't the case. That magical date comes and goes, and our circumstances don't change. We might have more red and green around the house, to be sure, and hear a few more jingle bells and jolly songs on the radio, but our lives don't radically shift on that date. We don't transform into new people come the first day on our Advent calendars. The painful situations still exist. The losses still put a twinge of pain in our chest-- sometimes more so as the holidays draw nearer, because we know. We know we are waiting for something that is gone, or not yet, and maybe never.
If we look back to the story of Joseph, we know that Joseph was familiar with the waiting. At 17 he was sold into slavery, and for the next thirteen years, he either lived at Potiphar's house or was imprisoned, after Potiphar's wife falsely accused him. During that time in prison, he must have prayed desperately for God to take him out of this season of waiting. Perhaps he didn't even know what he was waiting on, besides freedom. Who knew what lay ahead for him once he got out apart from that. And then there are these two men who come in, and he interprets their dreams and surely he must have thought, "THIS is it! this is my sign, this is the end of my waiting!". And yet we know from where we ended the reading, that the chief cupbearer had not remembered Joseph, he forgot him. He was left waiting.
We all find ourselves in seasons of waiting this Advent. Perhaps you're waiting on a new career move, or a renewed relationship, or waiting on God to answer some prayer deep in our hearts. Usually, the waiting is over something we have no control over, just as Joseph had no control over being rescued from false imprisonment. We are all waiting on something right now, in this season, and while it may or may not be as dire as Joseph's situation in prison, it can be lonely, and painful, and difficult. And so often in the waiting, it is easy to think that God is not near to us if our prayers have not yet been answered. Surely Joseph had moments of wondering himself, particularly after the situation with the cupbearer.
And when we read onto chapter 41, it begins "When two full years had passed, Pharaoh had a dream". Two FULL years. Not two quick years. Not two holly, jolly years. Two full years. of waiting, in the prison. And yet, as we know, that after two full years, Pharaoh had a dream, and the cupbearer was reminded of Joseph's ability to interpret dreams. And when Joseph comes before Pharaoh to interpret his dreams, their first interaction is this:
Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.”
“I cannot do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.”
Five times in his interpretation he tells Pharaoh "here is what God is doing". His immediate, instantaneous reaction is to give all the credit and honor not to himself, but to God. And I think this profoundly tells us something about Joseph: that in his waiting, he always knew God was near. It's not For Joseph to go out of his way to give credit to God, when he could have been doing all that might to wriggle himself out of his waiting period in prison, tells us that Joseph had a deep, abiding sense that God was with him throughout all the waiting.
Like I mentioned before, it can so often seem to us that God is absent in our seasons of waiting, and even in this Advent season it can almost be exacerbated, feeling as though we are the only ones waiting on God to reveal himself in some marvelous Santa Claus type fashion to rescue us from our waiting. First, I want to tell you, if you find yourself in a particularly hard season of waiting: you aren't alone. There are others, myself included, who wait alongside you. Remember my childhood plan for my twenties? I'm so far 0 for 3 on all my steps to happiness--although I am famous in my shower for broadway musical numbers. :) But even more than knowing that other people are with you, know that God is with you, and he is always working.
Joseph could have thought that the cupbearer forgetting him was a sure sign that God had also forgotten him. But God is not like man, thankfully, and he never forgets his people-- ever. His plans are also not like mans, which means that our goals and dreams don't always play out on the timelines we create. But he never forgets us, and he wants to be near to us, in the seasons of waiting, the seasons of Advent in our lives.
After Pharaoh heard Joseph's interpretation, he put him in the role of overseer of all of Egypt. Not only did he escape from the pit, but was risen to the highest office possible. But it wasn't as if God was suddenly present again after a 13 year absence. No, God had been present all along, working in and through Joseph's life, cultivating a faithfulness in him that perhaps only could have come from those great seasons of waiting. As we enter into this second week of Advent, the hustle and bustle of the holidays swirling at a greater pace with each day, perhaps the pang of our own waiting beats heavier in our hearts as we draw towards Christmas. Wendell Berry once said, "“It gets darker and darker and darker, and then Jesus is born.” Let us hold onto the hope that is brought by Advent, even in our darkest seasons of waiting, because we know that we are ultimately waiting for Jesus to return. A return that will right all the wrongs, rescue all the imprisoned, and end our waiting forever.