Written by Pastor Ed
Waiting for Change
November 30, 2014 Advent I
Isaiah 64: 1-9
Mark 13: 24-37
Waiting! Very few people that I know like to wait – for anything. And as we have moved into the technological age, it seems that we have become even more impatient. One of the selling points for computers, phones, even cable TV is that it will be faster. And the interesting thing is that the faster is measured in seconds, or even milliseconds. Having a faster computer means that you will have to wait 5 seconds less to download something. And yet we notice the difference at times.
I recall one move we made where we decided that we really didn’t need high-speed internet since our son was no longer living with us. But it wasn’t long before waiting for the dial-up connection became just too much and we quickly moved back to a DSL hook-up.
And if we have to wait, as we did in the airport for a delayed flight, or wait in traffic for not seconds, but rather for minutes, or even hours, well, people can become downright angry. Or sometimes we get fed up and work to find other ways of getting where we’re going or doing what we want to do.
Waiting is just not in our nature. Stuart McLean tells the story of Morley trying to get the kids interested in gardening, planting seeds, and how their daughter would come home every day from school and go to the garden to see if the pepper plants had changed, if peppers had appeared.
Waiting too long often evokes one of two reactions in people. As I said, sometime people get angry and try to take things into their own hands – make things happen. Or sometimes people just give up and decide it’s not going to happen anyway, so why wait?
The people of Isaiah’s day tended to the former. They had been in exile and had waited for years to return to their homes, but now that they were back, they found that the people back home had turned away from God. The people back home had given up on their relatives ever returning and had decided to move on with life. And so the returnees got angry and shouted at God.
“O that you would rend the heavens and come down!” “Shake things up; put a little terror into people’s lives. Shake the mountains, light a fire under people.” And there are times when we may feel like shouting at God as well. Certainly those who are living under the threat of violence, or famine, or disease feel that way. If only God would do something! And we need to understand those who cry out in that way, perhaps we have bene in that situation, but even if not, we need to understand those who have grown tired of waiting and cry out for relief.
But we are probably more like the people that Mark was writing for. For many of the Christians of the 1st century, they had expected that Jesus would return soon. After all, he had said this generation would not pass away before all these things came to pass. But generations were passing away, and Jesus had not yet returned. Well, maybe he wasn’t coming. There seem to be two themes in this passage from Mark.
On the one hand there is a stream that seems to warn Christians to prepare for an imminent return. “Watch so you aren’t caught sleeping.” On the other hand there are verses that seem to encourage the readers to be ready for the long haul, to remain faithful even though it may be awhile. It reminds me of my mother’s plans for dinner when she knew we were coming home for a visit but didn’t know for sure when we would arrive. So she often made something that would be ready when we got there, but that could be kept warm for a long period of time without being overcooked. The standard was sloppy-joes.
And in many ways that’s the message of the scriptures. We are told in many places that Christ will return. It’s as sure as the fact that Christmas is coming. But while we know that Christmas will arrive on December 25, we don’t know when that coming will be. And so we live in the present, awake and alert. Ready at any time, yet prepared for the long haul.
While Isaiah begins with an impatient cry for God to do something, he moves quickly to acknowledge that indeed, God has acted in the past and will act in the future. But God’s timing is not like ours. Jesus too acknowledges that it is only God who knows when the time is right to act. So we must live in the present, not becoming too impatient and not giving up hope.
So what does that mean for us during this season of Advent? Advent is supposed to be a time of waiting; a time of anticipation of Christ’s coming, both his birth which we celebrate at Christmas as well as his second coming at the fullness of time. In the midst of all the hubbub and hurry of the season, Advent is about waiting. And there are things we do to symbolize that. I’ll admit, I am one who always suggests that we not jump right into singing Christmas carols on the first Sunday of Advent.
And there is something good about the anticipation. The scripture use the image of an expectant mother waiting for the birth of a child. We know it’s coming, but not exactly when so we prepare as much as we can, but the joy only comes once the baby has arrived.
But Advent is also about the here and now. Waiting for Christ’s coming doesn’t mean doing nothing. In the short parable Jesus gives in Mark 13 he says that the man leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, “each with his work.” They are not to be just sitting around waiting – they are to be about their tasks. So one commentator suggested that rather than reading Jesus instruction as “keep awake” we instead read it as “be present.” It’s not so much focused on what we are waiting for, the future, but rather on what we are doing now in preparation for that future.
That means being about the work that God has given us to do in the here and now. And at least part of that work is to be spreading the good news of Christ’s birth, which makes a difference in the world. Which in many ways was God tearing the heavens open and coming down – not as a mighty warrior to set things right, but as a baby to live among us, teach us, set an example for us of what obedience to God meant – even to the point of giving his life.
If we truly understand what Jesus did, it is a rending of the heavens, an upheaval of the world order, a tearing of the heavens. And we catch glimpses of that upheaval from time to time if we are awake and alert to the present moment. And just maybe if we recognize and accept that we are not in charge of the timeline – that it is according to God’s time that all will take place, then we can relax and find the gift of waiting, of time even in the midst of the rush around us.
God has come down and dwelt among us. God is coming again, in the here and now, and in the days to come. May we be found awake and alert, about the work given to us, living in the present, with anticipation of the future.