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December 3, 2017    Advent 1              Mark 13:24-37

 

Well, my friends, the liturgical season of Advent is here. The time when we look again and anew at how our lives are tied to both the past and the future of God’s presence in Jesus Christ.  Advent draws us, in an intensified way, into the fullest meaning of Immanuel, God with us. Yet the thought of a God who draws near to us is at once terrifying and delightful, humbling and hopeful. Few passages in scripture bring these contrasting images to mind more than Mark 13, often referred to as the “little apocalypse” chapter.

 

The dire images that Jesus presents, “the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light and the stars will be falling from heaven” stand in stark contrast to the “All is calm, All is bright” comforting image of Christmas. The season of Advent reminds us that as wonderful as the birth of Christ is- it is only one chapter in the story of Gods’ salvation of the world. The end of the story will not occur until the end of the earth. Jesus is both the babe of Christmas and the future King who will return someday to claim what is his.

 

Thus, Advent is a time of anticipation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth as well as preparation for his return. But how are we to go about this business of preparing ourselves for the Lord Jesus Christ’s return? Oddly enough--by waiting. More on that in a minute. As I mentioned in the children’s sermon by the time Americans reach the age of 70 they will have spent 3 years of their life waiting. Waiting is not something we are fond of, nor is it something we aspire to do. Most people consider waiting a colossal waste of time-consequently the vast majority of people do not do this waiting thing well at all.  

 

It has been said that waiting is an awful desert between where we are and where we want to go. Most people do not like such a place. The culture in which we live screams at us, “Get going! Do something! Make a difference!”  In this Christmas season of hustle and bustle and the accompanying bouts with interminably long check-out lines, I’ve been thinking about how Christians can best use their times of waiting. And I’ve found some help in that regard. Henri Nouwen in his book, “Finding My Way Home: Pathways to Life and the Spirit” has a great deal to say about waiting as it pertains to Christians.

 

Nouwen begins with the premise that waiting for the Christian is meant to be far different than waiting as thought of by the non-Christian. Nouwen proposes that those of us awaiting Christ’s second coming would do well to take our lead from those who awaited Christ’s first coming. Waiting for them, was waiting with a sense of promise. That made all the difference in the world for them- particularly for Zechariah & Elizabeth, for Mary, for Simeon, for Anna.

 

The opening chapters of Luke’s gospel record that the angel of the Lord said to Zechariah, “Do not be afraid, your prayers have been heard, your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.” The angel of the Lord said to Mary, “Do not be afraid. Behold! You will conceive in your womb and bear a son and you shall call his name Jesus.” Simeon, waiting for the consolation of Israel, took the baby Jesus in his arms saying, “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation.” Anna, the prophetess, at the very hour that Simeon held the Savior of Jew and Gentile alike, began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Israel.

 

My friends, the promise of a Savior and Redeemer of the world, grew in and for the ancient people of the first coming and it still grows in and for those of us who await his return today. And Mark 13 serves as a vivid reminder that a waiting Christian is someone who, in the spiritual sense, “stays awake” as Christ commands us to do. But what does it mean to stay awake as we wait for our Lord Jesus Christ’s return? Henri Nouwen can help us a great deal here also I think.

 

Nouwen writes, “Most of us think of waiting as something very passive, a hopeless state determined by events totally out of our hands. The bus is late? You cannot do anything about it, so you just have to sit there and wait. It is not difficult to understand the irritation people feel when somebody says, ‘Just wait.’ Words like that push us into passivity. But there is none of this passivity in scripture. Those who are waiting (in scripture) are waiting very actively. Active waiting means to be fully present to the moment, in the conviction that something is happening right where you are and that you want to be present to it. That’s the secret. A waiting person is someone who believes that this moment is the moment.” End Quote.

Now I’m not suggesting that an angel will appear to you in your waiting moments, or hours or days as the case may be. What I do want to say is that your life is not your own and that the plans God has for you includes even the seemingly useless times of waiting. So, what if we used our waiting- those instances when things are not in our control- to turn our attention to God who is always in control?

 

Imagine the difference it would make in our lives if when we hear the dreadful words, “I’ll be with you in a moment” or worse yet, “Your call is very important to us, please stay on the line and someone will be with you shortly” we brought to mind that God is with us every single moment of our lives, that we actually are important to God, and that God is always with us on the line of prayer! What we if focused on praying for patience and not so much on justifying our impatience?    

 

Or what if the next time we stood in a line of exasperated, irritable people, we chose not to join the pouty party, but instead chose to engage the persons near us with an attitude of cheerfulness? These situations and of course, many, many more are opportunities for us to be actively waiting, fully present in the moment, trusting that God is always doing something new, things beyond our imagination, our prediction, and above all else, our control.

 

Friends in Christ, when we carefully consider what Jesus speaks about the end of time, we find that even there, he speaks pointedly about the importance of waiting. He says that nations will fight against nations and there will be wars, earthquakes and misery. And still we must wait. People will be in agony, and they will say, “Christ is there! No, he is here!” And still we must wait. Many people will be deceived. And still we must wait. But we are to wait, actively, fully engaged with God in the moment at hand, until the very moment of Christ’s return. That is the waiting that allows us to be people who can live in a very chaotic world and survive, even thrive, spiritually.    

 

The hope of Advent is that as we wait for a day not possibly known by us, when Christ returns we will join him as he completes the final chapter in God’s plan for the salvation of the world. God is faithful- Christ has come. God is faithful- Christ will come again. We are watchful, we are waiting, and we are ready. Come, Lord Jesus, come.