All right, so here we go again, and its Christmas. Joe last week talked about the announcement of Christ and what it means for an announcement to come like it did in its form and shape to that kind of audience and what that means for us today. This announcement was made to be timeless in abandon places and to abandoned people. This announcement was God’s way of displaying the fact that he has not abandoned the world and it beckons us to RSVP. This is what this week is about. What does an RSVP look like to the greatest announcement of all time?
This is a different kind of RSVP, it’s not just a form you fill out to let him know your coming. Generally maybe we have thought to RSVP to God’s birth announcement of Christ it was just a decision card that we filled out when we were a kid to follow Christ? Or maybe the RSVP is making sure that you show up at church every Sunday? Maybe it’s just re-dedicating your life verbally and confessing with your mouth? God makes an announcement, he is sending his son in the form of a vulnerable baby child and that child is going to be the hope of the nations. He is going to inaugurate a new way of living, a new kingdom that has different values, and he wants to invite everyone. So we are left with the announcement of what is going to happen. Two thousand years later we are still left with the invitation, but we’ve reduced the RSVP to a prayer that we say that we think gets us into heaven. Unfortunately, it’s a bit more complicated than that. It’s been two thousand years for starters, and Jesus has come and gone, and there is really no sign of this promise and announcement coming to complete fulfillment. We’ve been waiting and waiting, and in the meantime we’ve done a lot of stupid things. The church however has setup this time in our calendar to celebrate the birth of Jesus. It’s not just one day that we celebrate, its an entire month leading up to the birth of Jesus.
“… the [liturgical] year opens with Advent, the season that teaches us to wait for what is beyond the obvious. It trains us to see what is behind the apparent. Advent makes us look for God in all those places we have, until now, ignored.”
- Joan Chittister
The church has set us up to experience symbolically the wait that we are all waiting for, for Christ’s second coming and the final restoration of all things. Advent means waiting, so its kind of easy to talk about waiting and what waiting looks like and how we should wait, which we will get to. How though is only part of what is happening. The other half is asking the question, which we will do first, why are we waiting or what are we waiting for?
Q: What are we waiting for? Why are we waiting?
The way we answer these questions drastically shapes the way that we live and how we act day to day. Let’s say, like for a majority of my teenage years, we were waiting for the rapture to happen. So we were waiting for the day that God takes away all the Christians to heaven and let’s the earth fall apart and disintegrate and destroy itself while we sit safely in heaven with Jesus. If this is our ultimate hope, then that ends up meaning a lot for how we live our life now. We don’t really care about anything presently, do we? We don’t care if the earth is ravaged because it’s going to anyway, we don’t care about helping those in need because God is going to do it later anyway. We just don’t care about violence, because the world is ending in violence when God destroys everything with his wrath on all those bad people. So if we are waiting for God to come, take away all the Christians and destroy the earth with fire, then we are going to live in a way that supports all those assumptions. The way we wait will be dictated by the violence, exclusivity and wrath of God. So its important that we know what we are waiting for.
So what is advent and what is all this waiting about? Advent for me for a long time has been the waiting for Christ’s return and setting all things to right. It’s trusting in his promise that he is going to do what he said. It is receiving the grace to know that I cannot save the world but I can participate with God in his salvation of all things. After talking with Chris this week, I think my understanding of Advent is growing. I see advent as more of a solidarity with the church over the last two thousands years in living in the tension of the kingdom being now and not yet. We live knowing that the kingdom is alive here and now. We know its spreading. We see it integrated with everything. We desperately try to live as part of this kingdom because it helps us feel human and helps us be who we were created to be. This kingdom came when Jesus was born, when the announcement was made. In the same breath though, we live in this awkward tension of the kingdom still not being fully realized. We still see hate and violence everywhere. We still see such obvious examples that the world is not right. So there is tension there. The world is supposed to be one way, but it isn’t. The way the world should be is out there and its making ground, but so is the way the world shouldn’t be. We live in the uneasy tension of the kingdom being fully present and nowhere to be found. So we wait. We wait for the kingdom to be fully realized, we wait for the kingdom to be fully here.
We wait. We learn what it looks like to wait. We learn to wait. Here is what Jesus says about waiting…
“Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
Peter asked, “Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?”
The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.
The story of Jesus, and the announcement of Jesus demands an RSVP. It’s an invite and its still calling us to answer. Many of us have mistaken the RSVP as some passive thing you do once and say yes I am in. Jesus had something else in mind though. Jesus compares the RSVP process to servants waiting for their master to come home. Jesus takes waiting seriously. These servants respond by their waiting and waiting seems to be synonymous with watching and preparing for the arrival. Waiting in this case, with Jesus, is not some passive understanding that something is going to happen one day. This is an aggressive waiting that takes over our entire life, preparing ourselves and preparing our environment for the coming of our Master. Let me give you some perspective on what this waiting looks like.
My friend, who most of you know, Charity, ever since I have known her has been wanting a family. She finally married the man of her dreams and got pregnant soon after. So now she has nine months and she finally gets what she has been waiting for. Charity was the most active waiter I have ever seen in my life. The day she found out she was pregnant she was at the midwives office booking appointments. She was taking prenatal yoga three times a week. She was reading books. She was making decisions and planning how things were going to happen on the day of her birth and for the future once her life would change. Her entire life for nine months revolved around her waiting. She was the most active person I knew at the time, and oddly enough, it was all because she was waiting. Her idea of waiting had nothing to do with a one time decision to have a baby, it had nothing to do with deciding she actually wanted the baby. Her idea was waiting was full of action, preparing and getting ready for the baby. Her idea was hoping that while she didn’t even know the gender, that the baby would be healthy and beautiful. A lot of her plans had to do with the day of the birth, but really this was more about being prepared for how her life was going to change, priorities were going to change and life was going to be a lot different.
There is two things that happened while she waited that I think we can learn from as Christians while we wait, especially during this season of Advent.
1. Active Waiting
2. Hopeful Waiting
“Our waiting is always shaped by alertness to the Word. It is waiting in the knowledge that someone wants to address us. The question is, are we home? Are we at our address, ready to respond to the doorbell? We need to wait together, to keep each other at home spiritually, so that when the Word comes it can become flesh in us. That is why the Book of God is always in the midst of those who gather. We read the Word so that the Word can become flesh and have a whole new life in us.”
- Henri Nouwen
Are we ready? Is our house ready? What are we doing? The scriptures are full of this language of waiting, and it doesn’t mean to just sit around and impatiently wait for something. This isn’t just about being aware, this is about ordering our lives so its consistent with what is coming and what is real. This is why we spend so much time explaining and helping you imagine what the kingdom looks like. We are to be actively participating and bringing this kingdom to earth while we wait. If we don’t know what it looks like, then we will think waiting just means going somewhere on a Sunday and doing the good religious thing until something like the rapture happens. Our waiting now has become a waiting of something to happen so we can get out of here. It’s an escapist theology of rapture or of leaving this earth. When that happens we end up being devoid of responsibility or action while we sit around and “wait” for something to happen.
Waiting this way is about waiting as a community. Creating the right environment for our waiting to manifest itself into active participation.
The second type of waiting that this is is hopeful waiting. This isn’t wishful waiting. Wishes are when you wait for something specific and then when you don’t get it you get depressed. Wishful waiting is like trying to control the future. Rather, the kind of waiting doing is a hopeful waiting. Hopeful waiting is open-ended and its left in the control of the one who made the promise. Hopeful waiting is not concrete. Its why we have such a hard time waiting. We tie our waiting in with our wishes for how things should happen, rather than tying it into the promises that tell what will happen. Hope is always open ended.
Wishful waiting is about getting your way and what you can get out of it. Hopeful waiting is allowing your life to be shaped by promises that are soon to be fulfilled. Wishful waiting gets you real impatient real fast because you are getting what you expect. Hopeful waiting is patiently living as if it already happened because one day, it will happen.
“Waiting patiently in expectation is the foundation of the spiritual life.”
- Simon Weil
Q: How do we actively wait for Christ now?
We are waiting with a hopeful expectation. Yet, there is something unique about hopeful waiting rather than wishful waiting. Many times when we wait in hopeful expectation, we are handed what we did not expect. We expect Christ to come, and we expect God to move, but he often does this in very unexpected ways. They expected a messiah, and a ruler, and a king, and they got one but he came as a baby and then got crucified. Opening ourselves up to this type of unexpected delight is the kind of waiting that we are engaged in. When a pregnant women waits in expectation for her birth, she starts to grow outwardly large. Her body starts to change and prepare itself, while the promise inside of her starts to press up against her belly push up against it revealing its anticipation to the world. It’s this something new that we are waiting for. In the same kind of expectation.
We wait alongside of Israel, we wait alongside of the Prophets, and we wait alongside of the church as we wait for God to do something new in us and bring about fully his new creation all the while living out these values now. Advent is about forcing our individual selfish schedules into the larger schedule of God’s plan. It forces us to acknowledge what we are actually waiting and longing for. The same longing we have for things to be set right is the same longing that Israel had for Jesus to show up. It came unexpectedly, it came as a baby, but it came. Now we wait again, longing for the second coming. For the kingdom to come fully.
Blessed is the slave whom his master will find working when he arrives. Let’s not be idle. Let’s be active. Already about the masters work. Constantly advancing the his kingdom while we wait for him to make the final move. Let us be a pregnant community just bursting forth preparing every possible way for promise to be fulfilled. We aren’t preparing because the promise won’t happen if we don’t. We are preparing because we want to be prepared. We prepare for the same reasons a mother prepares to have her child. We want to be ready. we want to fully experience everything there is about it. We don’t want to be asleep. While we wait let us be sensitive to the signs and the movements of the promise. Jesus’ followers had to change and be shaped by the promise because no one was ever expecting the promise to come as a baby to a random women in a manger with a bunch of animals around and then who eventually gets crucified on the cross. They were attentive to the movements and what was happening around them so they could change their understanding to see where God was moving and what he was doing. Their waiting consisted of them listening and being aware of how they should live.
The same message is found amongst John the Baptist and Jesus in waiting for their Messiah. “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.” This is how we wait. We repent. This isn’t a call for all those who have said some prayer of repentance to tell everyone else who hasn’t to say they are sorry for all they’ve done wrong. Its a call to join in with the church in waiting for Christ to make all things new. It’s a call to radically shift the focus of life and start living as if you were already a new creation. This isn’t just a guilt thing. It’s not even a thing we say. Repentance is a way of waiting actively with our lives and turning into a direction that fulfills the kingdom that is spoken of. Repentance happens when communities of people take what was once a negative, hateful and death-dealing way to live and turn it around so they are positive, loving and life-giving. When Jesus says repent, he is saying that our entire lives should match up to this kingdom that is here and now. Everything, every single part of it. Waiting is about living a life in line with the kingdom, otherwise known as a repentant life.
So while we live in this tension of restoration being now and not yet, we live as if it is already now, while we wait for it to be fully realized. We live in hope not wishful thinking, that Christ will come back and make all things right. In the meantime, we wait and live as if it was already right. I realize that is a contradiction if you analyze this too deeply, but this is the tension and paradox that we are called into as Christians. We wait, but live as if it’s already happened.
“Advent asks us to deal with the basics of our relationship to God through Jesus Christ. Do I really believe in Christ? Have I put my hope and trust in Him? Do I see the future through the eyes of the one who came to redeem the world from the power of evil? Is there a longing within me for him to be formed within, to take up residence in my personal life, in my home, and in my vocation? These are not easy questions to answer. They require meditation, intention, and above all, a commitment that remains steadfast. But if we would break away from a spiritual life growing cold and a Christ who is becoming distant, we must be attentive to our spiritual discipline and long for God to break in on us with new life. When we do this, we experience the true meaning of Advent Spirituality.”
- Robert Webber
God, Let us wait well
While we wait, we will restore with you
While we wait, we will redeem with you
While we wait, we are transformed by you
Jesus, Let us wait well
While we wait, we hope for your presence
While we wait, we pray for peace in tension
While we wait, we hope for change around and in us
God, Let us wait well
While we wait, let us remember your promise
While we wait, let us remember those who have waited before
While we wait, let us remember you wait with us
Jesus, Let us wait well
While we wait, may we beat swords into plowshares
While we wait, may we love where there is hate
While we wait, may we live as if the wait is over