I realize I am a week behind but this is the sermon I preached last week in my my home parish for Advent 1- it is my hope that it is still appropriate for our time of waiting.
Grace and peace to you my sisters and brothers in Christ- it’s good to be in your midst after a year away on internship, and time serving as a supply preacher and a chaplain, all of which adds up to my only being here about five times in the last year and a half. I felt like I might never be in your midst again. When I was invited to preach I confess that waiting for this day has been the hardest part. But our lives are full of waiting. Some things have already happened, others are yet to come. We all dread those words “not yet.” We’re all waiting for something. So take a moment now and ask yourselves- What are YOU waiting for?
I’m going to go out on a limb and venture a guess on a couple possibilities. Particularly for the kids among us, perhaps you’re waiting to open Christmas presents. Thanksgiving has happened already. Christmas morning is “not yet.” Here in the congregation for some of you, maybe you’re waiting for the call process to be completed- the committee’s in place, the conclusion is “not yet.” Others of you may already be wishing this sermon over- to which I can say “NOT YET.”
“Already but not yet” also describes the season of Advent- we’re waiting to celebrate and remember the birth of Jesus which happened already. But we are also waiting for the return of Christ and God’s fulfillment which is “not yet.” I think we tend to focus on the “Baby Jesus” part. Is there anyone here who when I talked about what we are waiting for who thought first of waiting for the second coming of Christ?
It’s hard to wait for something when we’re told we can’t know the details. It’s hard to maintain that sense of “being ready” or “keeping awake” after all this time. It was probably just as hard as it was for the Israelites hearing the prophet Isaiah speak of a world that they couldn’t imagine. Or those in the time of Noah, doing all of the things we do in this season, eating, drinking, socializing. Or those who first heard our gospel. God’s people are used to waiting. SO, If you weren’t thinking about the return of Christ, you’re not alone. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, almost 60% of American Christians don’t believe Christ will return in their lifetimes. But shockingly, another 21% don’t think Christ will ever come. American Christians.
Perhaps then it’s easy to see the images in the Gospel of the women grinding in the field as just mindlessly living out the same old same old in a world where we say “life goes on” as a way of saying we don’t really expect anything more.
Maybe we can identify with the words of popular song writer John Mayer in the song entitled, “Waiting for the World to Change” which speaks of not acting in response to current world conditions because until something changes it makes no difference, because we lack power. He says:
Now we see everything that's going wrong with the world and those who lead it
We just feel like we don't have the means to rise above and beat it
It's not that we don't care, we just know that the fight ain't fair
SO we keep waiting for the world to change.
It’s hard to not nod off after trying to staying awake too long; with all of the news in our world, it’s hard to not be numb to what’s happening in the here and now. Maybe it’s easier to conserve our effort for when it really matters, wishing we knew when it mattered because until then “life goes on.” Maybe we’re even a little angry to hear the image of our house being broken into, our world rocked, wondering what it means to be “left behind” and hearing “if only you had been paying attention!”
But these words get our attention. In fact that’s their primary purpose- not to keep us up at night wondering about who is left behind and what it means, but to get us to wake up from our waiting.
SO maybe we’re called to something more than waiting for the world to change.
Consider instead the words of another song writer- Philip Nicolai. Raise your hand if you’ve heard his latest hit. If you haven’t heard of him, it’s not surprising, but actually you’ve heard his words and sung them. Nicolai was a Lutheran pastor in the late 1500’s during religious wars in Europe. Several times he had to flee or go into hiding and minister to his congregations secretly. And to top it off, while he was pastor, the plague took 1300 of his parishioners, mostly in the latter half of 1597. The next time Pastor Domines thinks he has a lot to do , Pastor Nicolai buried 170 in one week! Yet, to comfort his parishioners, he wrote a series of meditations which he called Freudenspiegel- translated means Mirror of Joy! Mirror of Joy!
And he wrote two hymns to inspire his people in this time of gloom, waiting and longing for a better day. Today we’ll sing one of them- "Wake, awake, for night is flying," which proclaims belief in the triumph of God. Written in a time when it would’ve been easy to just sing about waiting for the world to change. Instead lifting up what our gospel tells us-
Be expecting something! Don’t let being hung up on the logistics lead you to doubt, or let time lead you to be complacent. Be ready! The readiness we hear in Nicolai’s hymn is not wondering if anything will ever be different or better, but waiting in a way that proclaims that the work of the Christ has already begun. To remember that while we live in a time of “not yet” we triumphantly proclaim the hope of “already.”That the promises of the Kingdom are true and already in motion. And for us to be in motion, demonstrating our belief in Christ for others to see as a sign of hope. Seeing our world with eyes wide open, but living as people who expect to see something more and who respond by participating in its arrival. Maybe that kind of waiting looks like this: When Catherine was little, one Xmas we decided to get her the Playmobil Enchanted Castle-what any little girl fascinated by princesses would long for- a beautiful castle with two spiral staircases, and a sparkling chandelier, and flags flying from the turrets, an elegant banquet hall and a throne room. Can you tell I loved it just as much?
I bought it at the toy store, brought it home and hid the boxes so she couldn’t find it. Fully assembled, it would be too large to hide, so I had to wait ‘til just before Christmas to put it together. Which I did after the late service on Christmas Eve, which is actually Christmas Day.
This is when I realized it had about 500 pieces. So I was up into the wee hours of the night, laboring. But what kept me going was the absolute joy I knew would be experienced in the morning! This kept me awake and motivated. That very real anticipation. It’s the same sense of wonder and excitement we teach our children and grandchildren about Christmas and Baby Jesus.
What would it mean for us to live our lives in that sense of expectation? To wake up not only ourselves but others to the reality that the world as we know it has already begun to change? To live in the belief that God’s truth is already victorious? To proclaim to a world that has no expectations that the birth we will remember is the source of hope, and joy and peace and the best is yet to come? Living in eager expectation is to not only long for but to work for the vision where swords of destruction become plows that grow life, of trusting the power Christ brings and sharing moments of the in-breaking of Christ already. So sisters and brothers- What are you waiting for? Christ has triumphed and will come again-