Come, O Lord, and delay no longer; forgive the sins of thy people Israel. We just heard these words before the Gospel together with the Alleluia, and it’s a passage that often gets repeated during Advent. Delay no longer, O Lord. Hurry up, because I’m worried! This is a strange way of talking to God. Why should God hurry up? Perhaps he’s forgotten that the 25th is the day of his birth? Is it because he’s lazy and before he comes he’ll go to the beach for some R&R? No, our God is the one who governs all that will happen since the beginning of time. He doesn’t come too late, or too early. He comes when he comes. Therefore, what does it mean, “delay no longer”?
Spoken by the prophets, the prayer “Delay no longer” expresses the profound sense within the people of Israel of their slavery. I can’t do this any longer; I’m empty, without hope, desperate. O God, we’ve heard from our parents, from our grandparents that you would come to find us, to free us, and we’re waiting: Where are you? Why are you late? O Lord, don’t you see that we’re poor without you? That the burden of our sins weighs us down? In this context of the people of Israel, the insistence of finally seeing the God who will save them makes sense.
But we Christians, who have seen, heard, recognized the arrival of the Messiah, why do we say: “delay no longer?” He came in time, on a particular day, in a true moment of history, as St. Luke says: Now in the fifteen year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar (Lk 3:1). He came in a predicted land, followed by the prophetic stars, in poverty and in anticipated solitude. He came some two thousand years ago.
In fact, the story of the Incarnation of Christ barely begins before the prayers to “delay no longer” change into hurrying. Once the angel announces that she is pregnant with the Messiah, Mary went in haste into the hill country to find her cousin Elizabeth. Once they heard from the angel that for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior (Lk 2:11), the shepherds went in haste (Lk 2:16). The frequent cries of the Old Testament that God delay no longer become an instant, a call for us to delay no longer. We can no longer point our fingers at God and say: “Look, I’m waiting for you!” It’s now our turn to go in haste to the crib at the nativity scene.
Today’s Gospel reiterates with the insisting words of the Baptist. St. John says: it is time. There’s nothing else to wait on. Make sure that you’re baptized, for now we no longer wait for God, but rather God waits for us.
So now we can better understand the words delay no longer, O Lord, which we find in today’s Liturgy. Despite the concrete fact that Christ had a birth into history, we often have the attitude of our ancestors. There is a spiritual laziness, which easily seems like prudence, that, in very small moments, we gradually prepare ourselves for a life without God, or against God. We say: I could easily serve God in peace, if it weren’t for my parents, or my wife, or my husband, or my work. If that monk weren’t so bad, then I could live every day for Christ; if there weren’t such tension at home, I could even pray better. As we all too often say: O Lord, hurry and free me from these things!
However, the Gospel uses a very particular word in speaking of Salvation, “videbit omnis caro salutare Dei”, all flesh shall see the salvation of God (Lk 3:6), we will see it in our flesh, in real, tangible material. The last Gospel of Advent concludes in this way, reminding us that, we don’t need to wait for that difficult situation to resolve, for that monk to behave better, for my wife to give me more attention, or for all that work to diminish. It is this fallen, suffering, and incomplete world that Christ came to save. In a few days, we will celebrate that Feast which we’ve been waiting for. Let’s not lose the opportunity, pointing our fingers at God saying delay no longer!; but with the shepherds, and with Mary herself run towards the one who is in the manger, let us kneel before him, the baby who humbles the mountains and fills the valleys, and let us say: Let’s hurry, for the Lord is near!
(Translated from the original Italian by B. Gonzalez.)