Summary: Advent 1986: Everyone goes through a dynamic of promise, leading to shame, then leading to fulfillment, if we understand fulfillment as the presence of God.
I like the little quip about the fellow who offered His prayer with all sincerity and with tremendous urgency. “Lord," he said, "Lord, give me the gift of patience, and give it to me right now!” Well, at least he knew his need even if he did not exactly demonstrate an understanding of what was involved in becoming patient.
I like the little story because it seems so close to the human condition. It seems so accurate a picture of where I am and where most of us are. As the old song puts it, "I want what I want when I want it", and that's it. We do not want to wait for those things we think we ought to have. And we are terribly impatient with waiting and biding our time and hoping that something will mature. It's hard to do.
Christmas, of course, points up that side of our human nature as much as anything else does. At Christmas, mysterious packages begin to appear under the Christmas tree, and when they have your name on them, you cannot resist – well, let's tell the truth – I can't resist punching them and feeling them, lifting them up to see how heavy they are or whether they rattle. And there may even be a shred of truth to the rumor that I have been known to hold them up to the light to see if I can see anything that way. Does anybody know if there is a portable X-ray machine available?
Christmas is the holiday of impatience, the season that drives a little crazy those of us who want what we want when we want it. But Christmas points this up not only as we think about bright color packages tied up in string; Christmas brings this home to us also in spiritual terms, in deeply human terms.
You see, Christmas is all about promise and fulfillment. It is all about an ancient promise from a God who cares so deeply about His world that He would send forth a redeemer, a ruler, and prince of peace. Christmas is full of that promise, so dimly perceived and so poorly understood for centuries, but nonetheless so faithfully held among God’s people. Christmas is about that promise and about its fulfillment; our faith says it was and is fulfilled in a tiny babe in a rude stable on a starry night in a little town twenty centuries ago. Our faith is about that profound promise and its fantastic fulfillment.
But, you see, what we must not lose in the lights of Christmas is that all those surrounding this event had had to wait and wait and wait, and more than that, they had had to wait through a period of shame and humiliation, a period of doubt and anxiety, before fulfillment in any measure was granted. Let’s not lose sight of that – because I believe we will discover in it something of what our God is doing and is going to do with you and me in our own lives.
Here’s my premise, here’s my sermon theme: that on the way to the blessings which our God has prepared for us, we can expect times of humiliation, of doubt, of shame and disgrace; we can expect that there will be moments of uncertainty and of shakiness on the way after we have heard God’s promise to us. But, praise God, but – fulfillment will come. And the name of that fulfillment is Immanuel, God with us.
Let me say it again, in another way: you and I are here at the worship this morning only because we have heard God’s promise. We have heard our God promise us that He will save us, that He will make something worthwhile of our lives, that He will offer us a deep happiness and a peace that passes all ordinary understanding. We are here at worship because we have heard these promises and we want to claim them.
But we also know that they are not yet, not in the fullest sense. We know that we are not yet as complete as we want to be. We recognize that we are not yet as together and as solid as we ought to be. We know and have to admit that we are unfinished, we are still crude and rough and unfinished approximations of the kind of persons we want to be. And we are not very patient about that, are we? We are not altogether sure we want to wait; let’s have what we want when we want it. Let us be who we want to be, right now.
But, I am saying, that Christmas teaches us that on the way from God’s promise to the fulfillment we want, there is going to be some struggle, some humiliation and disappointment, even some shame. And yet Christmas, of course, teaches us that the day comes when there is fulfillment, and that fulfillment is God with us, God with us.