Summary: Waiting is essential to the spiritual life. But waiting as a disciple of Jesus is not an empty waiting. It is a waiting with a promise in our hearts that makes already present what we are waiting for.
The Wait Is On
Advent #1 Nov 27, 2011
What do the following have in common:
• Doctor’s office
• Holiday shopping
• Connecting flights
• Red light
Can you guess? The answer is waiting, and that that is what we are going to explore together today. Now, how many of you like to wait – hands up?
In a society where time is often a more valuable currency than money, being kept waiting often feels like being robbed, of something we can’t ever get back. That busier-than-normal traffic sets us behind, we left with just enough time to get where we need to be and now we are in trouble. The appointment we set for 2pm – how long will you wait before deciding the other person is not going to show up and you leave; and if they show up 20 minutes late what kind of a mindset are you in? How do you handle it when you pop into the grocery store to just grab a couple things, choose your teller lane which looks shorter than the others but in reality moves at a snail’s pace, and then you notice the nametag on the clerk that says in training. How do you respond? Or how about the busy Canadian Tire store with only one bathroom?
As a society, I think it is fair to say that we hate to wait. What does that say about how important we think we are, each of us individually? When the traffic is backed up and we get angry because it is making us late: don’t those roads exist for me – to get me where I need to go? Why can’t those construction guys work from 10pm to 6am so they don’t inconvenience me? Or why can’t that guy with the smashed up car learn to drive so I’m not waiting. We have these feelings of anger and impatience and frustration at him, instead of compassion for his loss and quite possibly his injuries. We hate to wait.
So it doesn’t actually surprise me that we import that culturally-shaped perspective into our spiritual lives. I mean, we have instant pain relievers, instant messaging, instant coffee; why don’t we have instant answers to prayer, instant healing of all our diseases, instant victory over our addictions, perfect kids by Friday? We hear and believe that God loves us deeply and completely, and that He is never too busy to listen and never too far away to be with us, so why isn’t He doing what I want/need right now?
When I say it like that, we recognize how crazy that is, and we would all say oh no, that’s not right. But we keep living like that. We keep expecting the instant result.
And yet, waiting is actually a gift of God that forms our souls. If we step back, we recognize what getting everything you want whenever you want it produces: spoiled, self-centered, selfish people who believe they are the center of the universe and who believe that everyone and everything else exists for them. And you know, that is not what God wants us to be. In fact, He wants the very opposite. And so, we wait.
Welcome to the first Sunday of Advent, the season of waiting for God to quietly slip into our world, taking upon Himself human flesh, becoming one with us. We take four weeks to wait and prepare, to discipline and train ourselves, to ready ourselves to embrace, once again, the history-shaking truth that God became human. We trace the story, we try to enter in and feel the desperate need and then the great joy, we try to identify with those who waited for the coming Messiah and then realize that we also wait. And my great hope and prayer is that by the time Christmas actually comes, our waiting and preparing will enable it to be not about presents and decorations, but rather that it would be about Jesus.
Zechariah and Elizabeth: Luke 1:6-25
Luke records the story for us, and I want to point out today that in Luke’s Gospel, it seems that everyone is waiting. First Luke introduces us to Zechariah and Elizabeth:
6 Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations. 7 They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, and they were both very old.
8 One day Zechariah was serving God in the Temple, for his order was on duty that week. 9 As was the custom of the priests, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense. 10 While the incense was being burned, a great crowd stood outside, praying.
11 While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar. 12 Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him. 13 But the angel said, Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer.