by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless
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How very poignant to read the words of the prophet 2,600 years after their first proclamation: “In those days…Jerusalem will live in safety.” As I write this bit of commentary, missiles are flying and troops are massing in yet another conflict between those who seek “the peace of Jerusalem” on their own terms.
2,600 years — talk about waiting! And, yet, the promise of God endures: “The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made….”
The psalmist reminds us that we have a purpose in our waiting. The “in-between” time — the pause between the promise of God and its fulfillment — is a time for trust. We practice “lifting up our souls.” Wow — now there’s a weighty [also, “wait-y”] exercise!
Waiting is a time for learning, as well; God makes known, teaches, and leads us in God’s paths.
Waiting is also, curiously, a time when we ask God to remember God’s mercy and steadfast love — but that we ask God to forget our own youthful indiscretions — the times we have wandered from the path!
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
There are other purposes for the waiting times, as well, according to the apostle. Day by day, God is at work strengthening the hearts of holiness within God’s people; we learn to “abound” in love — love for God, for one another, for God’s world.
Advent is a great time to follow the admonition of the heartfelt (if largely cheesy) words popularized by the smooth stylings of Glen Campbell:
I suppose the gospel reminds us that this waiting thing is not all smooth sailing and happy-go-lucky cheer-spreading. The real world — while we wait — is filled with “dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life.”
“Distress among the nations” is the order of the day; confusion reigns on many fronts. Certainly, there is no shortage of fear and foreboding.
However — and there is always a however with the gospel! — hope does come around, even in the midst of the cold mid-winter. For many of us (unless you live here in sunny Florida, USA) — the trees that surround us have lost their leaves. Things do, indeed, look a little bleak and barren outside.
But, based on experience, we understand that life has not been lost. What was green and growing will once again return. So, Jesus says, we have reason to hope that the same is true in the kingdom of God. What is needed, for people of faith, is a little watchfulness.
Be alert — look around. See things that others, who have only earthly eyes to see with, cannot quite make out. Lift up your heads, people of God — your redemption is drawing nigh!
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
It was over twenty years ago. We were on one of those endless car trips from South Atlanta
to Mount Airy NC for Thanksgiving weekend.
We finally got everything and everyone loaded up and ready to go and got on our way about three PM. With luck we’d be there before midnight.
About 30 minutes from home a little voice from the back seat piped up, “Are we there yet?”
“No, we’re not there yet. We just left home.”
Five minutes later, “Are we there yet?”
“No. Read your book.”
Five minutes later, “Are we there yet?”
“No, I’ll tell you when we get there.”
After about fifteen or twenty more, “Are we there yet” inquiries, I exploded, “No! And if you ask me that question one more time you’re in big trouble!” (One of my parental specialties was the ill-defined and unenforceable threat.)
After a blessed period of silence, a timid voice came from the back seat,
“Will I still be five years old when we get there?”
Advent is the season of waiting. Sometimes waiting patiently; other times waiting quite impatiently.
What are we waiting for?
Most of us are, with the rest of the world, waiting for Christmas to get here.
And while we wait we have a lot of practical things to do. Presents to buy and wrap and send, cards to write and address and mail, parties to host or attend.
And most of us are either going on a trip somewhere to visit someone
or we are getting ready for others to come visit us.
And somehow, in the midst of all that, we have to find room for the religious part
of our Christmas celebration.
It’s a busy, busy time.
And there are times when many of us just wish it would come and go quickly,
so that we can get on with our lives.
And there are other times when we wish it would wait a while,
give us some more time to get ready.
And those of us in the church are also waiting for still other things as well during this Advent season.
We are waiting for Jesus to come again “…to judge the living and the dead,” (the Apostles’ Creed.)
Advent reminds us that God is not yet finished, not with us and not with the world.
Creation and redemption are not once and for all,
over and done with acts, of God.
God created the world and keeps on actively creating it.
God in Christ acted to redeem the world and God in Christ keeps on actively redeeming it.
As Jeremiah says “. . . he will execute justice and righteousness in the land,” and until that is done,
God is not done.
Advent is also a time when we are waiting for the Christ Child to be born anew in our hearts.
Life gets tiresome and weary at times and our souls and spirits can grow numb and cold.
The cares of life, the mistakes and missteps begin to pile up. We can find ourselves slogging through to the best of our ability but somehow, our best just does not seem to be good enough anymore.
And so we wait; we wait for the Christ Child; we wait for the long-expected Jesus;
we wait for a glimmer of light in the world’s darkness; we wait for the renewal of hope in our lives.
While we wait, we look for signs that our time of waiting may soon be over.
“What are the things we are to look for?”
“What will happen so that we will know?”
“Are we there yet?”
Often-times people have looked for these signs with a sense of dread and foreboding.
The Left Behind books and some television preachers have used texts like the one in our Gospel lesson to try to scare people into a commitment to Christ.
That’s not the message Jesus is getting at here. The parable of the fig tree points to a more optimistic and hopeful promise.
Jesus says, “You know that winter is almost over when the fig tree begins to sprout new leaves.”
That is a sign that the time of darkness and cold and death is almost over; the time of light and warmth and new life is at hand.
Jesus is reminding us that the signs of the time are not bad, but good; not doom and destruction, but joy and jubilation.
The disturbances the world goes through when Christ enters in are not death rattles but rather birth pangs;
not the end but the beginning of life.
And so, how are we to spend our time while we are waiting? Verse 34 says to “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down . . .”
What if we translated that “be on your guard,” a little differently? The same word can also mean, “Pay attention to yourselves.”
Can’t that mean that we should look after one another, take care of each other,
protect each other from a loss of hope and faith?
Between the time when Jesus first came and the time when Jesus will come again, we have been called to the ministry of paying attention to each other.
Jesus is calling us to actively participate in changing the world.
Jesus is calling us to become a part of the struggle for peace and justice and righteousness in the world.
Jesus is calling us to feed the hungry,
to clothe the naked, to house the homeless,
the lift up the downtrodden,
to bind up the broken-hearted,
to raise the dead in spirit to new life in Christ.
Jesus is calling us to not so much look for signs of his coming but rather to be signs of his coming.
Jesus is calling us to be sprouts on the fig tree of new life;
Jesus is calling us to be a voice louder than the roaring of the seas as we proclaim the love of God.
Jesus is calling us to shine as bright as the sun and moon and stars as we show forth the light of Christ in a dark and lonely world.
And when those little backseat voices ask us, “Are we there yet?” — we can joyfully answer,
“No, not yet, but we are on the road and God is coming to meet us soon.”
Amen and amen.