Monday, December 1, 2008

Waiting (Sermon- Advent 1)

Advent is certainly a season of waiting. Waiting in lines, waiting online, waiting on hold, waiting to go to the airport, waiting at the airport, waiting to start eating, waiting to see if someone else will volunteer, waiting to really sing Christmas carols (instead of humming them under your breath because you know it’s really Advent and we have 23 days before Christmas carols are appropriate).

All this anticipation, build-up and then… Easter has a nice big finish, an empty cross, an echoing tomb and Jesus in the garden, speaking to Mary Magdalene. Advent winds us up and then drops us, gently, but drops us… into the soft light of the manger, where we crowd in with shepherds, animals and everyone else who wants to see what the fuss is about.

We wait. We wait. We wait.

When people ask me what it is like to be a pastor, I usually figure out some way to relate it to work they understand- it’s teaching, public speaking, counseling, things like that. I was ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament, to preaching, teaching, pastoral care, and all the other things that just happen as part of this job. But in truth, I’m a professional waiter.

All the other tasks I do are placeholders, important tasks, but not as important as the waiting I do with you. When you call in the night, when you are grieving, when you are waiting for good news, when you anticipate bad news, when you go through life and wonder, “How did God allow this to happen? Why doesn’t God make that happen?” I wait with you.

I wait with you. For I have my own questions I long to have answered, my own life events that I worry about, my own desires I would like to see fulfilled.

But when I read, “Comfort, o comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to my people that their penalty is paid. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level and the rough places a plain.” When I read those words, I get a kind of holy heart burn. And I long to bring comfort to you, notes of grace and hope in our time of stress and anxiety.

And when you read them, you too may feel that kind of burn, the push from the Spirit. For just like I think of you when I hear these words, you are called to be a pastor to the people around you- to offer them comfort- a message of hope.

What comfort can we offer? Waiting is our most human condition. We wait always, constantly, without ceasing. And it grinds on us, wearing us down, until we enter the numb monotony of constant motion and busy-ness. We even grow tired of waiting. So, how can we explain to others why faith matters when year after year passes without the return of the Christ?

Here is where the manger answers the longing of Advent with a boom. In the manger lies an infant who is fully human and fully divine. A baby who grow to be a man who will wait for his disciples to get the point, who will wait for his friend Lazarus to breath again, who will wait for children to come to him, who will wait for everyone to be fed, who will wait, in fear, to die for sins he did not commit.

God waited, through the time of the patriarchs and the time of the prophets, and then realized we could not wait any longer. So Jesus the Christ came to show us the face of God, the love of God, the nature of God and the patience of God.

When we wait in Advent during the church year, we’re actually speaking about the waiting that is our life. We bring the waiting and its attendant anxiety to the surface, our frustration with the delay, our fear of the day of the Lord, our gratitude for grace, our desperate inability to accept that grace.

We come to the manger and we breathe a sigh of relief. The celebration of Christmas stirs up the feel of liberation that can only come from knowing God’s sheer gift in His Son. The gift of light, love, peace, and mercy. The grace of the manger is the only thing that makes the grace of the cross possible. That’s what we hold too. That’s why our faith matters. We believe that God’s grace is sometimes all that helps us put one foot in front of the other as we wait.

And that grace is the comfort that we can offer the world. We are waiting for Christ to return, but in the meantime… we haven’t finished celebrating the first time he came. Come celebrate. Come celebrate with joy and anticipation. Celebrate with the whole church. Be comforted by faith in presence of the risen Christ in the world. Christ is with us. And we will continue to wait and celebrate, with Him through the Holy Spirit, until He comes again. Amen.

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