A sermon preached by Pastor Robert Schaefer
First & Spring Creek Lutheran Churches
Second Sunday in Advent – December 5, 2004
Text: Matthew 3:1-12
Friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
We need to learn how to wait.
It sounds strange to us, like learning how to sleep, or think, or breathe. What’s there to learn about waiting? You either are or you aren’t. Besides, who wants to learn something like that, even if it could be taught?
All the same, we must learn how to wait.
Waiting is one of the marks of the Christian life. Our Lord came to us as a child long ago, and as a man set us free from our sins and from death’s power over us. He set his kingdom in motion here on our earth and made us a part of it. But things are still unfinished; we live in an in-between time, waiting for the time when he will come back to us and bring his kingdom to rule, making everything new. Our Christian life is lived somewhere between “already” and “not yet,” and so waiting is at the heart of our faith. If we are to live faithful, fruitful lives in this in-between age, we need to learn how to wait.
Look no farther than an expecting mother and her nervous, excited mate to see the kind of waiting we need to learn. The term of their wait is set by biology – nine months, give or take a few weeks, and their lives will change forever! The couple marks each day that passes, not just in her growing belly but on their calendar. So much to do in such a short time! A room needs to be prepared, arrangements need to be made at work, insurance needs to be in order, supplies need to be bought. Both wife and husband are fully alive, watching and waiting for the arrival of their child. They day they are anticipating will come, but it will come on its own time, when the moment for that child to be born is finally right. The hopeful, expectant, active waiting of a young family preparing for a birth…that’s the sort of waiting we need to learn.
Or visit a National Guard family this holiday season, and you’ll see it. Whether their loved one has already been called up or is so far still at home, every last family is expert in the art of waiting. Waiting for a joyous return, waiting for the call to war, waiting for the knock on the front door. Every moment of the day for a military family is marked by their waiting. It causes them to experience things with a richness and meaning that the rest of us don’t often experience – a kiss under the question marks of war means more than many shared in more certain times. The living of each moment as it’s given, making the most of us…that’s the sort of waiting we need to learn.
You might also volunteer at in the hospice program if you want to learn about waiting. Here you will find people at the end of their lives, waiting for the day when death will finally close their eyes. You will find families gathered around their fading dear one, sharing stories and holding hands, shedding tears and saying goodbyes. Strangely enough, you will almost certainly also find peace by the hospice bed. Here the future is a known commodity – death will come – and the focus has shifted to allowing the inevitable outcome to be as blessed and gentle as possible. The only surprises in a hospice ward are the miracles of love and healing that can happen as a family waits with their loved one in those final moments. Making peace with the unavoidable future…that’s the sort of waiting we need to learn.
John the Baptist called God’s people to this sort of faithful waiting – the kind of waiting that makes excited preparations; the kind of waiting that savors every moment of life; the kind of waiting that is at peace with the future. And though our most powerful life experiences are filled with this kind of waiting, our day-to-day lives teach us to resist waiting of any kind.
Nowadays it seems like the last thing anyone wants to do is wait. Waiting is a hassle, a pain in the neck that keeps us from the things we want to do. I’m as guilty of it as the next person. Just last night I found myself rushing for the shortest line at the store to get there before anyone else could. I honked my horn impatiently at the fellow who seemed not to notice the green arrow. Life today, even in small-town America, is fast-paced, and we want things as quick as they can come. We’re no good at waiting, and we have little use for it. Waiting does not come naturally to us – it’s something that we need to learn. We need a teacher.
The season of Advent can be our teacher.
Advent goes against our grain. The lessons of Advent go against all the messages we get from within our selves and from the culture around us. Our world tells us, “It’s the holiday season!” but Advent says, “Not yet…but soon.” On the radio and on our lips are jingling bells and halls decked with boughs of holly; yet Advent sings quietly for Emmanuel to come. While the whole world seems to be lit up with blinking lights, Advent urges us: “One candle at a time.” All around us are worries and fears that darken our lives; against this gloom, Advent looks toward the hope that is on the horizon.
Advent is like a teacher urging abstinence to a classroom of anxious teenagers. Everything in their world – both inside and out – is telling them that waiting is crazy, that there’s nothing to be gained and everything to be lost. Advent calls us against our culture and perhaps even against our own hearts to learn the ways of faithful, watchful waiting. This season, with it’s four blue candles and it’s measured marking of the time till joy, is willing to be our best teacher, if we’ll only allow it.
We need to learn to wait.
Our Christian lives are lives of waiting, looking ahead not just to December 25, but even more longing toward our Lord’s return to us at the end of the age. But this waiting does not come naturally or easily to us, even though it is the hallmark of all of life’s most important moments. Waiting is something for us to learn – we must learn to make preparations as a family does for an expected child; to make the most of each moment, as military families across our nation are doing; and to finally be at peace with what is to come, the blessing that is so often found in the hospice room.
Advent is the church’s gift to us to teach us to wait. The more it goes against our grain, the more it rubs up against us, the more we realize how much we need it. In this season, we learn to watch with the Baptist, and with Israel, and with all of creation for the one who is coming into the world, the one who saved the world and the one who will make the world new and clean again. Friends, as hard as it is, Jesus Christ is worth all the wait. Let Advent be your teacher. May the blessings of waiting in faith be yours this Advent season. Amen.