December 1, 2023 / Andrew Arndt

Advent: Watching and Waiting For God

His plans outpace our asking and exceed our imagining. And he is prepared to wait “a very long time” to see them come to pass.

His plans outpace our asking and exceed our imagining. And he is prepared to wait “a very long time” to see them come to pass.

Ministering the Coming Word at Advent


He sat across the table from me in defeat.

“Pastor,” he had written to me several weeks earlier in an email, “I appreciated your sermon today on prayer. But it was also difficult for me. Can we get together?”

I happily said yes. We arranged a time and place and met.

There at the restaurant he began to explain to me why the message was so difficult. “I’ve struggled with addiction since I was thirteen. I’ve come clean on it repeatedly. Confessed my sins and sought mercy. Done everything everyone has told me to do to get victory. I’m in church and support groups and therapy weekly…”

“Good job,” I said — though I knew there was more coming.

“No, you don’t get it. It’s not working. What’s more, I’ve done just what you said in your sermon. I’ve asked God — really asked him — to take my addiction away. And still I struggle…”

I sat there staring at him, waiting to see what he would say next.

Where is God?” he finally asked. “Why isn’t he doing anything to help me?” “Why isn’t he answering my prayer?”

Well, then. What does one say?

The Center Cannot Hold

His questions, as it turns out, are also our questions, burning like embers at the edges of our hearts.

Where is God?

Why isn’t he doing anything to help me?

“Why isn’t he answering my prayer?”

The issues that provoke the questions run the gamut of the human experience, from the national to the international to the very intimate and personal.

Wars in Ukraine and Gaza.

A shaky economy.

A coming election cycle that has us all — already — holding our breath.

And that’s to say nothing of the families in our midst who are falling apart week after week, the marriages that are exploding left and right, the mental health episodes that are leaving us all on unsteady ground with one another.

Life, it seems, is always teetering on the brink. We pastors have a front row seat to it.

The Irish poet William Butler Yeats described our fears and the fears of our people well when he wrote:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre  

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere  

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst  

Are full of passionate intensity.1

Things fall apart. The center cannot hold. Anarchy is loosed. And the congregation gathers in worship and asks:

Where is God?

Why isn’t he doing anything to help us?

“Why isn’t he answering our prayers?”

What word does the preacher bring in such a circumstance?

An Advent word.

Help is on the Way

Advent stares it all straight in the eye and refuses to blink. It stands with us in our recognition that all is not as it should be, and that — the worst part of it — God, for all we can tell, is nowhere to be found.

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?

    How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I wrestle with my thoughts

    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?

    How long will my enemy triumph over me? (Psalm 13:1-2)

Four times in two verses, the cry rings out: How long?

For the Psalmist, the problem is not just existential; it is theological. He expected something different from life, from God — and came up empty.

That expectation was well founded. Across the canonical text — Psalm 1, for example — the promise is given that the righteous will prosper while the wicked will be blown away as so much chaff (Psalm 1:6).

So the Psalmist — like us — took God at his word. And yet here he is. Here we are — where all the evidence of our lives suddenly contradicts the claim of faith. And what is worse, the God in whose word we have put our hope seems to have absconded.

Divine indifference bears down upon us like a crushing weight.

Our relationships can endure a great deal. But the one thing no relationship can survive is indifference. The Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel once said that the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. If God were angry with us, we could endure it. But suppose God became indifferent? Suppose the divine heart grew cold? What then? What would become of us?

That is precisely the question that limit situations pose. What gives suffering its urgency is the question of meaning. Existence suddenly becomes an annihilating abyss. Another poet, W.H. Auden, wrote:

That is why we despair; that is why we would welcome

The nursery bogey or the winecellar ghost, why even

The violent howling of winter and war has become

Like a juke-box tune that we dare not stop; We are afraid

Of pain but more afraid of silence; for no nightmare

Of hostile objects could be as terrible as this Void.

This is the abomination. This is the wrath of God.2

When the warm summer climes of divine blessing give way to the cruel winter winds of suffering and doubt, we wonder with Job if God has turned his back on us, and in desperation lift our urgencies to the heavens to see if we can’t regain his ear, his heart. “You will call,” says Job (reversing the usual biblical formula where God calls us and we answer him), “and I will answer you; you will long for the creature your hands have made (Job 14:15).”

Do you hear it? Beneath his suffering, what Job really wants is for God to want him again, and says so, right to God’s face. In so doing he names the deepest desire of every human heart, the cry of every sufferer.

Are we seen?

Are known?

Are we wanted?

We hope so. But we’re not sure. Like Job, we vacillate wildly between the yes of faith, and annihilating despair.

Advent gathers all our doubt and despair, all our vexing questions and soul-crushing anguish, every single last one of our endless, tormented nights and anxious days, acknowledges it, welcomes it, and blesses it… and then places it all under the word of promise: “Behold, I am coming soon” (Rev. 21:7).

How soon is soon? We don’t know. We aren’t told. But this we are assured:

We are not forgotten.

The divine heart has not gone cold.

Help is on the way.

The Coming(s) of God

I’ve learned a great deal about Advent from Karl Barth. In the first book of the fourth volume of his magnificent Church Dogmatics, he writes:

The time of the community [that is, the church] is the time between the first parousia of Jesus Christ and the second…His first immediate visible presence and action was that in which He encountered the disciples in the forty days after Easter…His second presence and action will be His final coming…The community exists between His coming then as the Risen one and this final coming. Its time is, therefore, this time between.3

I think that’s right. We live between the ‘comings’ of the Lord. Advent teaches teaches us, as Jürgen Moltmann says, to look forward to the End, to the “the still outstanding future of Jesus Christ;” a future that “is the ground of the hope which carries faith through the trials of the god-forsaken world and of death.”4

Amen, I say. “What other time or season can or will the church ever have but that of Advent?”5 asks Barth later in the Dogmatics. Until Christ returns again in glory to judge the living and the dead, we are a waiting people; which means we are an Advent people.

And yet…

I want to hasten to add that if we’re not careful, the impression we can give our hearers is that all we have between the present and the future is waiting on God amid what Moltmann called “the trials of the god-forsaken world and of death.” In that case, Advent faith would be a grim faith, if brave.

But is that really all we have?

I think not. I think that the Scriptures teach us that our God is active now, mighty to save. That we ought to look for and expect the in-breaking of Jesus Christ in our midst, at any time, in any place.

“[T]he basic difference,” says Robert Jenson, “between a living person and dead one” is that a living person “can surprise us as the latter cannot.”6 Jesus Christ may appear in the divine surprise of salvation anytime, anyplace, says Jenson. The 12th century Cistercian monk Bernard of Clairvaux said something similar: “We know that there are three comings of the Lord…In his first coming our Lord came in our flesh and in our weakness…in the final coming he will be seen in glory and majesty…[but] in this middle coming he comes in spirit and in power7 — breaking in amid the trials of a god-forsaken world and of death with life-renewing grace.

That’s what Advent teaches, instructing us not only in the fine art of waiting and hoping that one day all things will be made right, but also (to steal a popular phrase from the world of my religious upbringing) in the art of naming and claiming the events of our lives and of our moment in history as acts of divine in-breaking.

You just have to pay attention. Which is what Advent calls us to do — “Watch,” says Jesus, “because you do not know on what day your Lord will come” (Matt. 24:42).


A Little Advent

We stood together in an upstairs classroom where the church I pastor meets. Ten of us. Foster Mom and Foster Dad, two boys (siblings), two girls (also siblings), two pastors (not siblings), my wife, and me. We were there to pray over the girls — new to Foster Mom and Foster Dad’s home — and dedicate them to the Lord.

We had done the same with the boys several months earlier. Rescued from a chaotic household, they were chaos when they arrived in our midst. Rambunctious, a bit scared, and skittish with adults, we anointed them with oil and prayed that the Spirit might work the magic of the kingdom into their bones.

Gracious God answered our prayers. Every week now they walk into our building with their heads held higher, more secure, more ready to meet greeting with confident greeting. “Lookin’ good this morning, Big B!” I’ll say to the older brother when they walk in. He beams with pride and slaps me five as he marches through the double doors and down the hall to his classroom.

This morning the boys are rambunctious as ever, but it’s different now. They’re responsive to us, present, engaged. Baby girl is in Foster Mom’s arms crying while her big sister turns pirouettes in her princess dress as she plays happily alongside Big B.

We ask how we can pray. Foster Mom and Foster Dad give us some detail on their situation, and we gather around. I pull a small vial of anointing oil out of my pocket.

I anoint baby girl. And her sister. And we pray fervent prayers over them.

We turn and ask for an update on the boys and their situation. Foster Mom and Foster Dad give us a few more details, and then we turn and ask the boys if we could pray for them again.

I honestly wonder what they’ll say. The first time we did it, they squirmed and writhed and seemed uncomfortable with the proceedings. This time, however, and somewhat to my surprise, Big B shot back a quick affirmative. And as I knelt in front of him to pray, he looked me dead in the eye and said, “Could you pray that my mom and dad would make better decisions?”

Good God. The world we live in…

At his request, I did just that. Smeared oil on his and his brother’s foreheads and prayed the filling and preserving power of the Spirit upon them both, and upon their mom and dad — that all the promises of God which are yes in Christ would be “amen’ed” in the flourishing of their family.

When I finished, Big B opened his eyes and said, “Can I pray for you?”

Of all the things for that boy to utter… Who was I to refuse?

And now I am shooting a quick — if someone startled — affirmative to Big B (all praise to the table-turning God), who dips his finger in the vial of oil and smears the sign of the cross on my forehead and the foreheads of his little bro and the two girls along with Foster Mom and Foster Dad and the two pastors who are not siblings and also my wife and prays God’s blessing over all of us.

Left me speechless. Just speechless.

Do you know what Bernard would call this? An Advent. Our lives — all of our lives — are already full of the signs and wonders of the kingdom. Do we have eyes to see? Are we watching?

This is what Advent teaches. It teaches us not merely a hopeful waiting for the End, but a holy curiosity, compelling us to look for the presence and action of Jesus Christ amid the chaos of our age.


Waiting with God, for God

It isn’t easy, of course. The road we travel is long and difficult, full of danger — and oftentimes the signs of the kingdom’s in-breaking are few and far between. The French philosopher and Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin put it perfectly in one of his prayers:

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.

We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.

We should like to skip the intermediate stages.

We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new.

And yet it is the law of all progress

that it is made by passing through some stages of instability—

and that it may take a very long time.8

Yes, it may. And usually does.

Why our God chooses to do things this way — taking a long time, acting in large part in hidden and secret ways — is beyond our ken. There are tantalizing hints and suggestions scattered throughout Scripture. Peter wrote that “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). Some great, cosmic work, Peter tells us, is on the line, and were God to rush the process, plucking the fruit before it is ripe, the great good he has planned would be lost.

And rest assured, it is a great good: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared…” (1 Corinthians 2:9, MEV). Or as Paul wrote elsewhere: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine…” (Ephesians 3:20).

His plans outpace our asking and exceed our imagining. And he is prepared to wait “a very long time” to see them come to pass.

And, therefore, so must we. We wait for God…

But not, mind you, for an absent God, for Christ the Coming One is still and always our Immanuel, as Barth writes, “by the Holy Spirit…invisibly present as the Living Head in the midst of His Body”9 — yet here and there making himself visible to the eyes of faith, and just thereby becoming, according to Bernard, “our rest and consolation,” his presence in our midst “like a road on which we travel from the first coming to the last.”10 Or as Catherine of Sienna put it: “All the way to heaven is heaven, because Jesus said, I am the way.11

So, then, here is what it means to be an Advent people: 

We wait with God,

for God.



Andrew Arndt is the lead pastor of New Life East, one of seven congregations of New Life Church in Colorado Springs. Prior to joining New Life’s team, he served as lead pastor of Bloom Church: a neo-monastic, charismatic, liturgical, justice-driven network of house churches in Denver. He is the host of the Essential Church podcast, a weekly conversation designed to strengthen the thinking of church and ministry leaders. Andrew received his MDiv from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and is a Leading Voice for Missio Alliance. He lives in Colorado Springs with his wife, Mandi, & their four kids. Andrew’s latest book, Streams in the Wasteland: Finding Spiritual Renewal with the Desert Fathers and Mothers, released in September 2022. His first book, All Flame, released in 2020.

So, then, here is what it means to be an Advent people: We wait with God, for God. Amen. Share on X


1 W.B. Yeats, “The Second Coming.”

2 W.H. Auden, For The Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio (Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ: 2013), 7.

3 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV/1 (T&T Clark, Edinburgh: 1961), 725.

4 Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope (Fortress, Minneapolis: 1993), 85.

5 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV/3, (T&T Clark, Edinburgh: 1962), 322.

6 Robert W. Jenson, Systematic Theology Volume 1: The Triune God (OUP, New York: 1997), 198.

7 St. Bernard of Clairvaux (Sermo 5, In Adventu Domini, 1-3: Opera Omnia, Edit. Cisterc. 4 {1966}, 188-190. Accessed via

8 Accessed via

9 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV/1 (T&T Clark, Edinburgh: 1961), 725.

10 Ibid.

11 Quote attributed historically to Catherine of Sienna, but exact origins are unknown. See this link for more information on Catherine’s work and ministry: