Consider yourself warned: if you plan a party for God—tidy up the house, frost the cake, and send out RSVPs—you’re in for a rude awakening. He won’t show up. Or rather, he will, but it’ll be a week or a month or even a year after the scheduled date. The leftover cake will be molding in the trash, the balloons wrinkled like old skin, and the guests gone about their business, long before the Almighty raps his knuckles on your front door.
The Lord is perpetually late. He’s a non-punctual deity. Never throw a party for God.
There’s no watch on the Lord’s wrist. No iPhone in the back pocket of his blue jeans. He did create time; it was his idea. But for him “the right time” is never our time. From our perspective, he’s either way too early or—more usually—way too late.
Today, even as the church rolls into the time of Advent, we remember this frustrating truth: no clocks hang on heaven’s walls.
The Untimely Branch of David
We see an illustration of the Lord’s untimely ways in a verse from Jeremiah, which many churches will read this Sunday (33:14-16). The prophet begins, ironically, by talking about time: “in those days and at that time,” he says. So far, so good. We’re looking at a day and time when God will do something. Perhaps we’re wrong. Maybe he is going to be punctual after all.
But, no, far from it. What the Lord is going to do “in those days and at that time,” is to “cause a righteous Branch of David to spring forth,” (v. 15). In the Hebrew, it says, God will “cause a spout to sprout.” He will tsamach a tsemach. This action is not the issue, however, but the time this will happen. This sprout or branch will not begin to grow in the spring, when the sun thaws the earth, when seeds incubate and ascend through the warming soil. No, that would make sense. Rather, this branch will begin to spout in the dead of winter, in frozen soil, when there’s not a chance it will do anything but die.
In other words, Jesus, the Branch of David, will come at the wrong time. A seriously wrong time. And he’ll show up not days, not even years, but centuries late.
He’s the Branch of David, to be sure, from a royal family tree, but when Jesus is born David’s bones had been in the grave for almost a thousand years. Not only that, but Israel had been kingless for centuries. When David’s Branch was born, the party was long over. The decorations in the attic, the balloons airless. Israel wasn’t even free to have a king! It lived under Roman domination, just as it had lived under Greek hegemony before.
So, yes, the Branch showed up. Finally. But it was far too late. Israel’s garden was smothered by snow. Judah’s soil was frozen. The patch of holy ground that once had blossomed under the summer of Israel’s glory was now a sad, withered, dead acre of nothingness graffitied with the tracks of Roman jackboots.
When God plants a garden, he always goes to work in December.
But, from God’s perspective, the timing was perfect. When God plants a garden, he always goes to work in December.
Gardening in December
When you’re waiting around for the Lord to act, to hear your prayer, to heal your body, to heal your marriage, to pull you out of that dark place in which you find yourself—remember December.
When you’re increasingly frustrated by the Lord’s seeming deafness, when he doesn’t seem to care if you’re dead or alive, when your entire existence screams out with the Psalmist, “How long?!” remember December.
Remember that after the Father promised to come, to save, to plant Jesus the Branch in Israel’s soil, he came much, much later than anyone wanted or expected him to come—in December. Not only was his timing off, but he came in such an underwhelming, unpromising way, that it appeared as “hopeful” as a garden planted in snow and ice.
The Lord shows up in December. A tiny, vulnerable, swaddled Branch in the arms of a young mother. A mad king sought to slay him. Demons hounded his steps. The religious elite plotted his murder. And, in time, he was grotesquely executed in a barbaric show of legalized human depravity. Yet this December God knew what he was doing. He was doing things his way, in his time, and showing through it all that what seemed foolish was actually the wise revelation of God.
But there’s a good chance that when God begins to garden in your life, there will be snow on the ground.
Remember December. The Lord’s watch doesn’t tick-tock to our timetables. He will act for you. He will act to save you. He will do his loving thing, whatever that is, for you. But there’s a good chance that when God begins to garden in your life, there will be snow on the ground. But that’s okay, because Jesus the Branch knows a thing or two about making his appearance in December.