Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months, and then returned to her home. – Luke 1:56 (CEB)
This time of year, we are doing a lot of waiting, and these days until Christmas can seem like forever to a child. Luke will pick Mary’s story back up in chapter two when describing Jesus’ birth. But what about the many months until then? Mary returns home – and then what? She finds herself in a time in-between; in a time of waiting.
I often wonder if we are really able to wait anymore. When my kids were little, we would have Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob DVR’d for them. These shows were always “on.” Now, we can get whole seasons of a show at one time on Netflix or on our phones or iPads. And who watches commercials anymore?
I don’t think we know what to do with ourselves in a time in-between. After all, what do we do in our times of waiting? Just a short wait at the grocery store, and we are getting our phones out to check our email or texts or play a game. We are constantly multi-tasking. Every moment is filled up. As a society we avoid silence and aloneness. We don’t do much pondering anymore.
But of course there are times when we’re forced to wait. We can’t change the amount of time it takes for an injury to heal, or grief to subside, or the days to go by until we see a loved one again. Do we ever welcome times of waiting as an opportunity for reflection or preparation – or do we simply seek to move through them as fast as we can?
Are our times of waiting just wasted time?
Like Mary, it is in these in-between times, these times of waiting, that we do most of our living. Mary was in-between being a child and woman; daughter and wife; Nazareth and Bethlehem. This is probably when things begin to get difficult for Mary. Maybe this is the time when Mary tells her family about the angel’s visit. It’s probably during this time that Joseph hears the news and decides to divorce Mary.
This time in-between is when the whispering begins – the looks and the not-so-subtle remarks. We might remember the Samaritan woman by the well Jesus encounters in one of his trips between Jerusalem and Galilee. This is the woman who had had five husbands, who came to get water in the heat of the day in order to avoid the gossiping of the other women. Maybe this is Mary’s story of waiting as well.
What is our story of waiting?
As individuals, some of us might be waiting for grief to end, for a round of chemo to be over or test results to come back, for the pain to stop for a child. We are literally in-between siblings who are fighting about our parents as we wait for our parents to stop fighting our help. We wait for pregnancy to occur, for our children to grow up, for our children to come home, for the job offer to come through, for the sun to shine.
It’s no wonder that the refrain of Advent is “Come, Lord Jesus, come.”
And it’s no wonder that we don’t like to wait. We usually assume the worst, and it’s better to just know what’s going to happen and get on with it.
But this in-between time for Mary, this time of waiting, is also when Joseph decides to divorce her quietly rather than shaming her. It’s when Joseph gets his own angelic visit that confirms Mary’s story. This is the time when Joseph says, “yes” to God and agrees to remain married to Mary. This is when Joseph becomes her protector.
The in-between time that separates conception and birth is critical. Without it, the promise cannot be fulfilled. It is here where miracles occur. It is in this time of waiting that Mary feels the first flutter of movement in her womb. It’s in waiting that God’s word becomes real.
Our times of waiting are both difficult and an opportunity for the miraculous.
Everything changed when Gabriel announced God’s call to Mary. And now, everything has changed again – except that nothing has changed. God hasn’t removed the stigma of this pregnancy. The world has not been made any safer to have a child. God has not provided guarantees of any kind. There is no clear path for Mary and Joseph – except to stay together.
Regardless of what else might go on, or things people say, or a census when you are nine months pregnant, or a king who wants to kill your child – God has given them one another. The promise of Christmas is that we are never on our own. The promise of Christmas is Immanuel, God with us: God with us until the end of the age, at which time we will be eternally with God. This doesn’t make life easy, but it does make life possible.
God works in our times of waiting. Often God’s work isn’t visible on the outside: like the change in Joseph’s heart, or the growth of baby, or a sense of peace amidst seeming chaos. God’s grace in our times of waiting is the promise that we are not in it alone. The time in-between, our times of waiting, is where God’s miracles occur. May God give us eyes that see, ears that hear, and hearts that believe.
Faithful and loving God, you separated the dark from the light creating day and night, creating time. We receive time as a gift in seasons of joy but regard it as a burden in our seasons of difficulty. But everything you create is good. May we receive those whom you have given to us – in times of joy and difficulty – to ensure that we are not alone. May we receive the promise of Immanuel, God with us, not just at Christmas but in each moment of our lives. And like Mary, may our hearts be an open womb to may receive the miracles you bestow. We pray the words of the psalmist in this time in-between:
Our soul waits for the LORD; [you are] our help and shield. Our heart is glad in [you], because we trust in [your] holy name. Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in you.
 John 4:1-42
 Matthew 1:18-25
 Genesis 1:3-5
 Psalm 33:20-22 (NRSV)