I kneel on the floor by the old man’s recliner. Sunday afternoon sunlight slants through the nursing home window, warming my back.
The old farmer’s red-rimmed eyes shimmer when we talk about the harvest and last Sunday’s Bible readings at our white-steepled church, tucked between two Iowa cornfields.
And we talk about Advent, this season of expectant waiting before Christmas, this waiting for Jesus.
The old farmer leans his head back and sighs contentedness. We sit in the quiet, and I hear a clock on the wall tick away moments toward … what? The end? Or the beginning?
Suspended between ends and new beginnings, we wait. I reach for his age-spotted hand on the armrest. It’s something I wouldn’t have done sitting next to him in our shared pew, or if I’d run into him at the post office, or even in the privacy of his simple farmhouse. But here in the nursing home, it seems good and right to hold hands. Sometimes a touch says more than words.
Folks on the prayer chain say he’s dying. It’s a matter of time — a matter of waiting, expectant waiting. And here we are, both of us in the quiet, waiting for Jesus.
“The Lord has been with me through a lot of things,” he says, voice-box rattling and gravely.
“Yes sir,” I say, squeezing his hand. “He sure has.”
“And I ‘spect He won’t leave me now either,” he says. His eyes bore into me, deep.
“No sir,” I say while he holds my gaze. “He will never leave us or forsake us.”
“That’s right. That’s right,” he nods, drawing out his words. I wonder if this is the simple benediction that he offers all of his eleventh-hour visitors, to make sure we really know the truth about things before he leaves us.
And we’re both dying, really. We’re all dying, all of us — traveling through this place until we get to our real home.
I stay beside him, and in the silence, I wonder about my own mortality. They say he’s the next to go, but we’ve all been given a terminal diagnosis.
The story, though, doesn’t end with the diagnosis. Our bodies try to trick us, to tell us that this is all there is. But our souls cry out: This is not the end of the story.
This Advent, we wait. We expect. We hope against earthly hope. Our hope is greater.
We remind one another of this truth in nursing homes, and church pews, and living rooms and hospital beds. We really do know how this all ends. This nonfiction story — bestseller of all time — has been penned and sealed in red. And I’ll put the Spoiler Alert right here, because I’m about to blurt out the ending:
He’s coming back again.
” … if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” John 14:3
There really is a happily-ever-after, you know. The story’s Hero is coming again. Just wait. You’ll see.