November 27, 2011
What Are You Waiting For?
Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel. Ephesians 6.1
I did a lot of waiting this week. I spent several days in New York City, and waiting is a condition of city life. While I was there, I became aware of very different kinds of waiting.
For instance, on Wednesday I was trying to get lunch for my daughters at Grand Central Terminal before putting them on a train back to Connecticut. I foolishly chose to order a salad and a sandwich from Junior’s, where they were selling off a literal wall of pre-boxed cheesecakes for people to bring to their Thanksgiving feasts. They claimed to still be dispensing food, but once I paid, there was no sign of our order. We were sent to one end of the counter to wait, then the other, with an increasing crowd of disgruntled hungry people. Someone who ordered after I did got her food. I didn’t know what to do—and that made me really anxious. Beth and Anna were about to miss their train. I pushed my way back to the front of the ordering line, and refused to budge until we got our food. I guess it’s no surprise that the sandwich was missing, and the drink was wrong. This was very ugly waiting.
The night before I experienced a different kind of waiting—waiting for a subway train. It was pouring rain, too far to walk, no cabs anywhere. We had to take the subway. I knew we were in the right place. The train didn’t come and didn’t come, but there was nothing to do but wait. It was a little frustrating, because we were tired and it was late, but I was helpless to change the situation—I couldn’t make the train come. And once I recognized that, I actually found it to be kind of peaceful. It wasn’t useful or productive in any way—there were lots of other “better” ways to use that time, probably—but that option wasn’t available to me. It was passive waiting, and it wasn’t bad.
And then there’s a kind of waiting that I didn’t personally experience this week, because I was writing this sermon, but that I have experienced before and hope to again. I’m thinking of pie-making waiting. You work, slicing the apples and preparing the filling and making the crust and putting the whole thing together; and then you put it in the oven and wait. A delicious smell fills the house. You know that soon something wonderful is going to happen, and you have a part to play.
Three kinds of waiting:
· Anxious, angry waiting
· Passive, rather peaceful waiting
· Hopeful, productive waiting
Advent is a time of waiting. It can be any of these types of waiting—anxious, passive, or hopeful. I suspect that none of us really enjoy anxious, angry waiting. What makes the difference between them? That’s what we’re talking about today.
Advent, which begins four Sundays before Christmas, is not merely a warm-up for the Nativity. Advent means “coming” or “arrival.” During Advent we focus our attention on two different periods in time—waiting for the Christ Child, the Messiah, to be born; and waiting for Jesus Christ to come again in glory.
The first period was the time beginning with the Hebrew prophets who announced the “someday” restoration of Israel to take place with the arrival of a Messiah. The Jews waited 400 years from the time of the last prophecy until the birth of Jesus. Those who don’t think he was the Messiah are still waiting.
The second period began with the ascension of the resurrected Jesus into heaven, and the promise of his return. The first
There is a difference between a wish and a hope—and the quality of our waiting depends on that difference. A wish isn’t necessarily based on anything. A hope is based on some expectation of being fulfilled. We hope because we have reason to hope. And our Advent hope is based not so much in the Christmas birth of Jesus—but in the Easter joy of resurrection. Stay with me here.
In First Corinthians chapter 15, Paul addresses this very directly.
If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. 19 If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But, Paul continues, Christ has been raised. Jesus, who was born a helpless baby, grew up in an ordinary family in the middle of nowhere, gathered disciples, who preached and teached and healed and loved—Jesus who was killed because he was a threat to those in power—he died, but he did not stay dead. And because of that, we have no need to fear death. But if we only believe in the teachings of Jesus, thinking that they will make us better people, as Paul says, “we are of all people most to be pitied.” We might as well follow the teachings of the world and get out there and grab whatever we can for ourselves before the music stops.
But we have so much more than that. We have this great hope—an expectation based on what God has already done. God has already come into the world, already showed us God’s love, already lived out for us a demonstration of what God expects of us, and verified God’s power to achieve victory over evil and death.
Because of this, we don’t have to wait in anxiety. We don’t have to be like I was at the Junior’s counter. We don’t have to worry that we won’t ever get our lunch. We know how things work, and what we should do, and how the story ends. We also don’t have to be like I was on the subway platform, confident that the train would come someday—confident that Jesus will come someday—but helpless to do anything but wait. We blessed ones can wait in hope and expectation. We can smell the pie! We have work to do, certainly, but the end result is in God’s hands, and victory is already guaranteed.
What would your life look like if you completely believed that?
With hope, comes the possibility of action. As Paul wrote to the Romans,
Make sure that you don’t get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-by-day obligations that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God. The night is about over, dawn is about to break. Be up and awake to what God is doing!
As we prepare for Christmas, it’s easy to get absorbed and exhausted in taking care of our to-do lists. But all those to-do’s are put into their proper place if we remember why we’re doing them. As we attend to the details of our celebration, so is God also putting the finishing touches on God’s plan for us, and our forever life with God. There’s not a moment to waste! We have work to do—even as we wait, in confidence of God’s ability to make everything right.
You may have noticed something unusual on the front of your bulletin today. There’s a post-it note stuck on there, covering up a question: What is your real Christmas wish? If you could have anything you wanted this season, I’m guessing it wouldn’t be something money can buy. Stop for a moment and imagine it.
This post-it note is for you to write that dear wish on. Then stick it someplace where you’ll see it every day—the refrigerator, the window over the kitchen sink, your bathroom mirror, the dashboard of your car. Pray, and ask God to fulfill this hope. And remember to listen to what God might say—you may have an important part to play in the fulfillment of your hope. In the security of God’s love, we may have to step out beyond our comfort zone in order to have our hopes fulfilled.
We don’t wait in angry anxiety; or in helplessness; but in hope. May God grant us this wonderful gift, that we may be empowered to live and love and work in grace, for God’s kingdom.
Romans 13:11-14 (The Message)
Make sure that you don’t get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-by-day obligations that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God. The night is about over, dawn is about to break. Be up and awake to what God is doing! God is putting the finishing touches on the salvation work he began when we first believed. We can’t afford to waste a minute, must not squander these precious daylight hours in frivolity and indulgence, in sleeping around and dissipation, in bickering and grabbing everything in sight. Get out of bed and get dressed! Don’t loiter and linger, waiting until the very last minute. Dress yourselves in Christ, and be up and about!
11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.