November 29, 2020 “The Holiness of Waiting”
“The Holiness of Waiting”
I had a thought the other day. Yeah, that can be dangerous, I know. But as I was trying to get in the right mood and the right spirit for this Advent season, I got to wondering who it was that ever thought it would be a good idea to create a season that celebrates…waiting? I mean, no one likes to wait. It’s annoying and it’s aggravating. My first thought was that it was probably the same guy that invented the gas powered leaf blower. Those of you who live in town know what I’m talking about. But I’m kidding, of course, because this 40 day period we call Advent has been around for over1400 years, give or take. They were still raking their leaves back then.
But really now, what’s the point? What would be the harm in simply diving into the spirit of Christmas the day after Thanksgiving? Judging by the ads and the lights and the trees that are going up, we do that anyway. Why should we impose this artificial period of waiting? What’s the point?
It’s been said that one of the downsides of living in the information age is that we are constantly entertained. A half hour wait at the doctor’s office is no longer a pain as long as we have our smart phones or I-Pads or Gameboys. Heck, I almost look forward to waiting at the DMV so that I can get caught up on ….well, all kinds of things. The problem is: we’re never bored anymore. I was always taught that boredom comes from either a lack of imagination or simply a lack of things to do. I also learned as a kid to never complain that I was bored because there would always be someone ready to find things for me to do. But if we forced to stop, to wait, and yes, to be bored, that doesn’t mean that God is doing the same. In the words of Louie Giglio, “To us, waiting is wasting. To God, waiting is working.” You know, I’ve come to believe that the practice of Advent was an inspired event. God has never been good at this instant gratification thing. Abraham and Sarah had to wait well into their 80’s before they could have children, yet that birth was the birth of the nation of Israel. Moses was sent to free the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt, yet he had to take a breather in the middle of it all – some 40 years. The prophets, the Apostles, the saints – none of them was handed a playbook that said this has to get done in record time. No, it had to get done in God’s time. And it is during that time, hopefully, that God molds us into the people we were meant to be.
A gentleman named Wayne Stiles puts it well when he tells us, ““Waiting is a very active part of living. Waiting on God, if we do it correctly, is anything but passive. Waiting works its way out in very deliberate actions, [such as an intentional searching of the Scriptures, of prayer. Waiting can bring about intense moments of humility, and the realization that we’re only here for a short time.] With the waiting comes learning. I can’t think of much I’ve learned that’s positive from the times I’ve plowed ahead without waiting on God.” (end quote) It’s that last sentence that got me: I can’t think of much I’ve learned – or done, or tried, or have taken credit for – that was positive from the times I’ve plowed ahead without waiting on God.
There’s a holiness to waiting. With the waiting comes learning. With the waiting comes understanding. With the waiting comes the awesome presence of our loving God.
Now at this point, you might be thinking, “Yea, we know all about waiting. For nine months, we’ve been waiting; waiting for something, anything, to turn this thing around.” Yet this ‘thing’ that is officially called “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2” has now claimed the lives of over a quarter million souls in the United States alone. Treatments have come along that showed some promise, but then…not so much. Vaccines have been developed in record time both here and abroad but, once again, we are told that we’ll have to wait. And then, to top it off, we come to the season of Advent where the music and the scriptures and the traditions tell us what? To wait – wait for the Lord. The temptation is great to simply throw up our arms and announce to the world that we’re going to skip this whole waiting business, at least for this year. But here’s the thing: God will forgive our ranting and raving. He’ll walk with us through the thick as well as the thin. I can relate to the prophet Isaiah whose opening lament rings true today: “If only you would open the heavens and come down! Mountains would quake before you like fire igniting brushwood or making water boil.” We can relate because deep down we’d like to holler out the same: “O Lord, come down and get this thing straightened out! We’ve had enough!” And that would be a good first step. But after a while we are bound to come to the realization that bossing God around has never worked in the past and sure ain’t going to work now. And so we wait; and if we seek the holiness that comes from waiting we, like Isaiah, may come to the place that God wants us to be – where we need to be – as we find ourselves saying, “But now, Lord, you are our Father. You are the potter and we are the clay. All of us are the work of your hand.” I’ll close with some thoughts from my favorite Lutheran, Rev Delmer Chilton who tells us:
Advent is a time when we look at ourselves and at our world and recognize that we need God. It is also a time for deep and serious reflection upon the way in which we live our lives, the ways in which our actions are either supportive of God’s will and way in the world, or are hindrances to it. It is a time for repentance in the sense of reorientation, of redirecting our lives to be more in line with the way God would have us go.
Advent is a time to wait for God to come. But this is not a hopeless and helpless waiting, alternating wishful-ness with moments of despair. No, Advent waiting is, in the words of Jesus in the Gospel lesson, a matter of being “alert,” and “awake,” watching not the sky, but the world, paying attention to the times and places where opportunities for mission and ministry to present themselves.
Advent is a time to open ourselves up to the possibility that the God of all our tomorrows has a new and exciting future in store for us. Rather than looking forward with fear, let us look to the future with faith and hope, spending our days serving “the least of these,” always on the lookout for more needs to fill and more people to love.
There’s a holiness to waiting. With the waiting comes learning. With the waiting comes understanding. With the waiting comes the awesome presence of our God. Let’s keep watch and maybe, just maybe when we come out on the other side of these weird times we are in, we’ll find ourselves blessed: blessed to be one step closer to the Kingdom of God.
Amen & Shalom
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