A couple years ago at this time of year I was a student on a GI service, and our team was consulted to admit a patient in the emergency department with altered mental status from liver failure. We took the history from the patient’s wife of his symptoms the previous months and learned he had seen several doctors unable to find an answer for why his liver function was worsening, even though his body showed signs of liver failure. She brought him in because he had started acting differently and didn’t know what to do. We checked the lab-tests the emergency department had saw they were consistent with liver failure and would need a transplant soon. As the admission process was underway, the patient’s wife asked our team, “Do I need to pull my kids from their college finals so they can so goodbye to their father?”

After talking with the GI transplant team, the attending doctor offered her reassurance that he would likely be stable the next 1-2 weeks, and so suggested that she could wait a few days until her kids finished their finals before asking them to fly home. Beyond that, most of her questions were answered with, “We will wait and see how he responds to treatment” with the ultimate answer being that he needed a new liver.

“Wait and see” is the same theme that colored the first Christmas. Generations of believers lived with the expectation that one day a savior would arrive to fulfil the multitude of magnificent promises God had made to his people about reversing the effects of sin in a ruined world and humanity.

For to us a child is born,

to us a son is given,

and the government will be on his shoulders.

And he will be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the greatness of his government and peace

there will be no end.

He will reign on David’s throne

and over his kingdom,

establishing and upholding it

with justice and righteousness

from that time on and forever.

The zeal of the Lord Almighty

will accomplish this.

-Isaiah 9:6-7

As a boy, I waited for what felt like a long time for a Philadelphia club to win a league championship. Listening to talk-radio prophets, it seemed like the glory years were over, and that William Penn had cursed the city for building a tower taller than his statue (https://www.nbcsports.com/philadelphia/eagles/philadelphia-sports-curse-billy-penn-anniversary)

Either Andy Reid, Eric Lindros, Allen Iverson, or Scott Rolen were talented but tragically “not clutch enough”, or else they were rotten pretenders sent by the sports gods to torture the loyal spirit of Philadelphia fans. Eventually, someone got the bright idea to place a small action figure of William Penn atop the tallest tower in Philadelphia, and -voila! -the next year the Phillies won the World Series. Either the sports gods or William Penn were appeased, and faithful Philadelphia fans rejoiced for about a week before returning to the newest beef to complain about with one of the clubs’ dubious free agency signings.

Although I would not describe most Philadelphia fans’ waiting as, “confident patience”, or “active anticipation”, but rather “begrudging”, “cynical”, or “belligerent”, we still did ultimately wait. Nobody became a Cowboys or Yankees fan (and anyone who did merely proved that they were never really a true fan to begin with). Fans who could afford it spent the money fill the 700-level seats, and those who couldn’t followed each game on the radio or newspaper. The believers who were waiting for the birth of a savior sometimes waited in questionable ways: trying to accomplish the promises with political revolutions, abandoning their cultural identity for another, or more commonly, allowing their hearts to grow cold and stop actively caring if the person who made these promises ever actually delivers on them.

For those of us who cannot change what we are waiting on as simply as putting an action figure atop a tower, what’s our next move? We could mentally check-out and numb the loss with lots of eggnog. I suppose we might seize control and ‘make it happen’, but if that were truly a helpful option, then there was probably nothing to ever wait on. The worthwhile thing about Christmas and waiting is that our participatory role is not to make-it-happen, but expect-it-to-happen.

To return to the patient from the story above, him and his family went through several weeks of waiting, with several ups and downs in his clinical course, but eventually they got the new liver, and their expectant waiting was worthwhile.

Murry Christmas,