12/14/2014 Third Sunday in Advent The text for today’s sermon is Isaiah 61:1-4,8-11; I Thes 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
As a child, I remember that the most difficult part of Christmas was simply waiting for it to come. The time from Thanksgiving to December 25th seemed more like an eternity than a month. Days seemed like weeks and weeks felt like seasons as time seemed to stand still. Of course, as an adult, this has changed. Now, the time from Thanksgiving to Christmas day seems to be more like a week than a month. And I’m sure that the same is true for most of you as together, we scratch our heads and wonder where the year has gone.
Yes, we still hunger for Christmas to come, but not for the same reasons. We’re not looking for toys under the tree – though one in the garage might be nice. No, we want Christmas to come and go because we don’t like the feeling of being rushed and we don’t like waiting. The truth is – we don’t like waiting for anything, good or bad. We look for the fastest check-out line in the grocery store and pump our own gas in order to save a few precious moments. Fast food chains boom because we don’t take the time to prepare a meal and then, sit down and eat it. Instead, we eat in our cars as we travel from place to place, or at our desks at work, or in front of the TV so we won’t miss our favorite show. In this fast-paced life, we seldom find the time to sit down and read a book anymore. So, we rely on audio books and condensed versions of the Bible.
This no-wait approach to life has made us a restless people. We don’t know how to be silent and quiet for any length of time as we spend our days cramming more and more into a finite amount of time. We have forgotten the art of waiting. And yet, wait we must. Waiting is part of living. We can’t speed up the clock. We must wait for payday, a break, quitting time, and for the letter carrier to deliver our mail. When we do our Christmas shopping, we had better be prepared to wait in a line to get checked out, wait to get a parking spot, and wait to get those cards and packages sent on their way. But, there are also some very serious matters for which we must wait. Some people wait for the end of chemo treatments and for health to return. Some wait for fuel assistance, some for marriage or remarriage, and some for divorces to be finalized. Waiting can be pure agony as a scared child waits for the dawn of new day, a scared elder nearing the end of life waits for death, an expectant mother waits for delivery, and the world, torn apart by strife, waits for peace.
As William Willimon, dean of the chapel at Duke University, asserts: “Show me a person who is not waiting, nor yearning, not leaning forward, standing on tiptoe for something better, and I will show you a person who has given up hope for anything better, someone who has settled down too comfortably in present arrangements. And that’s sad. The future belongs to those who wait, for those who know we are meant for something better.” (quoted from Joel D. Kline, The Critical Choice)
It is here that the Christmas story begins. It begins with a people looking to the future. It begins thousands of years before the birth of Christ. It begins with people waiting, waiting and longing for the one who will bring light out of darkness and make the blind to see, the one who will turn their sorrow into joy and vanquish their enemies. But, no matter how impatient they may be for the one to come among them, they must wait. They must wait, like we must wait, for time passes on God’s clock in a different way. We look at seconds; God looks at ages. We want things NOW, God does things in his time – at the right time in accordance with his plan for the salvation of the world.
At the right time, Isaiah prophesied to a people in exile. At the right time, John the Baptist came as a witness to testify to the light. At the right time, God sent his son, the awaited Messiah, into the world. At the right time, Christ will come again in glory. And all we can do is wait. We wait for the fulfillment of God’s promise of a future of righteousness and justice, a future that is in the works today, even if we can’t always see it. We wait for the exiles to sing for joy, while carrying a bountiful -harvest, the seeds of which are already in the ground. We wait for the light shining through the darkness, light that springs forth from repentance and is founded in the one whose sandals John says he is unworthy to untie. We wait for that time when pain and sorrow will be no more. But, we do not wait idly for we wait and live in hope.
For Paul, this time of waiting is a time to give thanks to God in all circumstances of life, even in seasons of drought. It’s easy to be thankful when everything is going well, but as Paul knows , life is not all peaches and cream. Into every life there are times of drought, times of pain and struggle, darkness and doubt. No one escapes, even though the specifics vary from person to person. There may be days and weeks ahead that look pretty bleak. There may be times when you feel alone and insignificant, and problems may seem insurmountable. Illness and death may cloud your vision of the future. And you forget that the future belongs to our God who keeps his promises forever. As we wait, we hold onto those promises so that can rejoice with Isaiah and give thanks. For Isaiah rejoices, not in what has been done, but in what God promises to do in the future. This rejoicing looks past the past and beyond the present. It is a joy of anticipation of the future.
Paul gives us quite a list of instructions on how we are to live our lives as we wait. We are to respect the community leaders, be at peace among ourselves, admonish idlers, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, and be patient with everyone (something that is very hard to do when we’re in a rush). We are not to repay evil with evil, but we are to seek to do good to all. The woman who paid everyone’s lay-a-ways at Toys ’R Us this year, shows us a way to share our good fortune with others.
As wait for the fulfillment of God’s promises, we are to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, hold fast to the good and abstain from evil. We are not to quench the spirit, nor are we to despise the prophet’s word. Basically, we are to rejoice and pray and help each other as we wait for the future that God has in store for us. For, that future is surely coming at God’s time.
And so we live in hope in all circumstances in our life – in both the good times and the bad. For, the future belongs to our God who sends his light into the world. As we wait in anticipation and hope for this future, may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.