Waiting … December 3, 2017
We are at the beginning of another year in the life of the church.
The church marks time differently than the world does. It seems a little strange to start a new year in early December. After all, January 1 is the beginning of the year, right?
In truth, though, we live by a number of different calendars. If you have school age children, the new year begins with Labour Day. Some businesses have year–end at the end of March. Chinese New Year usually comes in late winter or early spring. There are different calendars in our lives.
In the church’s calendar, Advent marks the beginning of a new year. Our life as the church is found in a rhythm of preparation, celebration, reflection and action.
We begin with a season of preparation in Advent. We prepare for what God is doing in our lives and our world. Then at Christmas, we take 12 days to celebrate the Light of the World. After the 12th day of Christmas, which we call Epiphany, we reflect on how we can respond to God’s love, and we act on it. God has given us gifts—how do we share those gifts with the world? God’s light shines in the world—how do we bear that light in the darkness? God has been born into our world—how do we nurture the life born in us?
Preparation … celebration … reflection and action.
It begins today. We anticipate … we watch … we prepare … we wait. Waiting is one of the prominent themes of Advent.
There are different kinds of waiting.
We wait in a lineup in a bank…or in the grocery store … or at the doctor’s office. Endless waiting. Why don’t they put more staff on at the teller or cash register? Why doesn’t the doctor manage her schedule more carefully? Personally, I hate that kind of waiting. I get impatient; it’s such a waste of time. So I carry a book around with me to fill the empty time.
A different kind of waiting … you’ve had some tests done, and now you are waiting for the results. Days and nights are filled with apprehension and worry. Am I sick? How bad is it? What’s going to happen to me? Questions … fears…anxieties.
Another kind of waiting — “Mommy, Mommy, are we there yet?” Eager children who can’t wait to get there. If we are honest, sometimes we feel that way too! The kind of waiting that says breathlessly, “Only 22 more days till Christmas!”
Yet a different kind of waiting … a woman learns that she is pregnant. For nine months she waits. She waits actively; her body is changing; life is growing within her and she participates actively in it all. There are some things she can do to help the pregnancy along. She can take care of herself … of her body. She prepares her nest. She rests … eats right … feels her body develop … watches and makes sure that she does everything she can so that the time of birth will be good for her and good for her child.
In Advent, we wait. We are preparing for birth.
On the one hand, we are preparing for Christmas. Along with the rest of the world, we buy gifts … we bake … we decorate the house and trim the tree … we clean house and plan parties … we do all kinds of things. This kind of preparation consumes an awful lot of time and energy; but it is fun and exciting. I love the lights and the decorations and the good will of the season.
But we are also waiting and preparing in a more reflective way. Sometimes the busyness in our lives overshadows our spiritual preparation. Spiritual preparation is harder to do … it takes time and stillness … it’s about looking within.
The word “Advent” means coming. We are preparing for the coming of Jesus. We talk about Jesus coming in three different ways.
Firstly, we talk about the historical coming of Christ. We celebrate the birth of the Christ–child at Christmas some 2000 years ago. We look back to the past, and celebrate that birth.
Secondly, we talk about the abiding presence of Jesus with us here and now. Jesus comes to us again and again, day by day, moment by moment. We wait for Jesus to come in the present, to be born in us anew with each passing day.
Thirdly, we wait for his final coming. The technical word for this is eschatology, which has to do with the goal of creation. Some people believe in a literal return of Jesus at the end of time. I don’t.
Part of the problem with this, of course, is that it’s been 2000 years. It’s hard to main that sense of anticipation for that long. Instead of a literal return, I tend to talk more about God working in partnership with God’s people so that God’s purposes of wholeness and justice are born in us for the healing of creation. For me, it’s a metaphor for living with expectancy … living with hope … living with assurance that God continues to show up in our lives. I love the way Martha Simmons puts it … “eschatology is where the sweet bye and bye meets the nasty here and now.”
Advent includes all three of these. We begin with the eschatological sense … at the beginning of the new year, we commit ourselves again to working with God for the healing of the world. We pray that Christ may come to us again and again, renewing us, transforming us, making us people of compassion and peace and wholeness.
That’s what these readings are about today. In the middle of exile, the prophet Isaiah cries out, “Oh, that you would tear open the heavens and come down.” It is the prayer of a powerless people, who have nowhere to turn. It is a prayer for God to come crashing into our world and set everything to rights again.
It could easily be our prayer. Our world is filled with darkness and despair:
- the streets are crowded with hungry and homeless people;
- young people are losing hope, and choosing death by suicide;
- we are living in an epidemic of addiction and death from opiates;
- there are wars and rumours of wars;
- people who spout hatred and bigotry have been emboldened;
- cancer still claims too many victims;
- husbands and wives beat up on each other, or on their children;
- the environment is being dangerously harmed.
It seems, some days, to be more than we can handle. This world is not right. Surely this weary world is not what God had in mind. Surely, God meant something more whole and complete … something different … something more healthy.
“Oh, that you would tear open the heavens and come down.” Or in the words of the Psalm, “Stir up your strength and come to help us!” There has got to be more than this.
The promise of Advent is that there is more. In the darkness of this world, there is a glimmer of light. A single candle chases the darkness away. In the midst of the hurt in our lives, hope us a real possibility. In the midst of pain the promise of healing comes.
The promise by which we live is that God is faithful. The promise of Advent is found in the trustworthiness of God. The promise of Advent is the promise of light in the darkness, life in the midst of death, hope in the midst of despair.
We wait for Jesus to come. Mark reminds us that we can’t ever know when that will be. We wait as a pregnant woman waits, nurturing the life that is growing within us. Advent is a time to watch more intentionally for glimpses of Jesus in our lives.
So we become a mindful people. Whenever we feed a hungry person, or visit a lonely person, or reach out in love to someone who needs to be affirmed, Jesus is present. In every act of generosity and grace, Jesus is present.
We become a pregnant people, waiting as the Christ takes form in us and gets ready to be born in us. As a pregnant people, we work with God to be transformed. We tend and nurture the life of the spirit within us. We keep on keepin’ on, working with God for the healing of the world.
Thanks be to God.
Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt
December 3, 2017 (1st Sunday of Advent)
Mark 13: 24–37
Isaiah 64: 1–9
1 Corinthians 1: 3–9