What are we waiting for? 11/28/10

Romans 13:11-14

11Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Matthew 24:36-44

36But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

Psalm 122

1I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!”
2Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.
3Jerusalem—built as a city that is bound firmly together.
4To it the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Lord.
5For there the thrones for judgment were set up, the thrones of the house of David. 6Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May they prosper who love you.
7Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers.”
8For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, “Peace be within you.”
9For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good.


 

What are We Waiting for?

Do we celebrate Christmas or keep watch for the Lord?

The season of Advent as celebrated or kept in the church stands in sharp contrast to the cultural or secular experience of waiting for Christmas.  In our culture of instant gratification, we’ve been seeing and hearing Christmas music and decorations for almost a complete month now.  For a season that is just a few short weeks, we have really crammed a lot of legends, traditions, and folklore into the experience.

In the church, however, Advent is not a time of excess and parties, but a time of reflection and waiting.  We pace with Mary as she waits to see how Joseph will react to this unexpected pregnancy.  We hope for the future, preparing for a long journey just as Joseph is preparing for that long trek to his hometown for a census.  Our first impulse, of course, is to skip ahead to Christmas.  We already know what happens, what’s the point of all the preparation and waiting?

For my mother, Christmas was a very special time so I remember well all the work she put into making it special for us children.  Each of us had a handmade Advent Calendar where a piece of candy was tied on with yarn for each day of December.  One year, my sister and I decided to eat several days at once to try to get to Christmas faster — alas, Christmas did not come sooner, we just had several candy-free days with which to repent of our maneuverings.  Waiting seemed like torture as a child, but it also made the day and the event of Christmas more important and special.  Anticipation, watchfulness, patient expectation … even as children we sense there is something important, something big, something holy coming at Christmas.

… for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour (Mt 24:44)

In Matthew, Jesus begins to warn the disciples that we cannot predict the time of Christ’s return … that the Son of Man himself doesn’t know when that time will come.  He urges people to be aware of what is happening now.  In a season where so much of what we do reminds us of Christmases past, this warning of Jesus’ is a sharp reminder to live in the present moment as best we can.  It is an almost Dickens-like, A Christmas Story kind of nudge to acknowledge where we are today in a way that looks forward to where we hope to be in the future.

“To be honest, a passage like this one from the Gospel of Matthew is just the sort of text that provokes certain uneasiness we’d rather dismiss, so that we can concentrate instead on the “main” message of the Gospels, which is, of course, love. God’s love … However, focusing on the baby who came into the world one night long ago, and ignoring the promises of a God who comes into the world, into our lives, this very day (and tomorrow, too, and the day after that), surely misses the bigger picture of the story of salvation history. Here it seems reasonable to note that the word “salvation” resembles “salve,” and both have to do with healing, and so does the long arc of God’s story with us, the re-creation, the healing, the repair, of God’s beautiful gift of creation, from each of our “little” lives to the long sweep of human history.”[1]

Where are you at present?  What are you waiting for?
What in your life needs the healing, saving grace of Christ? 
Is it your health, your sense of balance, your care of you? 
Perhaps it is your relationship with a sibling, spouse, or friend?

What is your deepest hope this Christmas?
 
How does the arrival of Jesus into the world answer that hope?

It is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers

Romans 13:11-14, The Message

11-14 But make sure that you don’t get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-by-day obliga­tions that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God. The night is about over, dawn is about to break. Be up and awake to what God is doing! God is putting the finishing touches on the salvation work he began when we first believed. We can’t afford to waste a minute, must not squander these precious daylight hours in frivolity and indulgence, in sleeping around and dissipation, in bickering and grabbing everything in sight. Get out of bed and get dressed! Don’t loiter and linger, waiting until the very last minute. Dress yourselves in Christ, and be up and about!

Waiting for Christmas is not a passive act that is apathetic and barely believing in the possibilities to come.
Waiting for Christmas is an active, full-of-hope kind of waiting that says we believe tomorrow will be better and we believe God is present in the world, amidst the suffering.  We believe there is something worth waiting for, and that is the active work of God.

“Although the apostle Paul wrote this passage long ago, it perfectly describes the challenge for this season. Day-to-day obligations increase as Christmas nears and people think about the entertaining, shopping, decorating and duties that have come to define a perfect Christmas. Yet the best point remains; deliverance is near! Dawn is about to break! God intercedes in human affairs to provide something life giving, real, lasting. Far from the temporal satisfac­tion humans get from acquiring goods, God’s incredible love is dwelling among us. We are receiving a gift beyond anything conceived by humanity and marketed on store shelves.

If we truly want a life-giving Christmas, drawing closer to God needs to take priority over any material desire on this year’s wish list. For week one of Advent, we focus on living into eternal hope, carrying that hope for others, knowing that no matter what we go through, we are never alone. God will break through our circumstances and shed light. The focus of the service and other activities of the week should put one’s Christmas list in perspective to seeking God first.[2]

It’s hard, though, to wait on God.  In this day when signs and symbols seem to be non-existent.  When angels and heavenly hosts don’t always appear to us in the field at night (though, to be fair, how many of us find ourselves under the stars in a field at night?), it is easy to believe even subconsciously that God is not at work, that we have been left to our own devices.  Advent is a time when we voice our eternal hopes and try to wake ourselves up to what God might be doing in our midst.

Be up and awake to what God is doing!  Dress yourselves in Christ, and be up and about!  Put on the armor of the light

 Putting on the armor of light is a hopeful, faith-filled action that believes that good will overcome evil, that light is stronger than darkness.  This is an optimistic action that says we are open to God’s movement in our lives because we believe God can change our future for the better.  As we move into Advent, this passage in Romans is an invitation to open our hearts to the hopeful opportunities and beliefs we find in Christ.  Take some time to think about how you live out of hope.

Do your words and actions speak to a faith in God? 
Does what you say each day build up the possibility of trusting God? 
Do you believe that God is capable of working in you and with you?

Hope in the world

Psalm 122 speaks to how this hope might be lived out in our personal relationships.  The last three verses are a wish and a blessing:  “May they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers.” For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, “Peace be within you.” For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good.

The hope that Jesus’ presence in world proclaims is not just a personal or private peace that we experience, this hope has power in our lives; it moves us.  It is a hope that is meant to be shared within our relationships and with the people that we meet.  This hope means that our relationships do not have to remain in the same pattern that we’ve been living; it is possible for them to change for the better.

Within your relationships, in your family, at work, with your friends … do you seek the good of the other person even in disagreement?  Do you believe that it is possible for your loved ones to find peace? 
Is it within your power to help them find that peace? 
Do you know the peace that comes from hope in Jesus? 

“Hope is faith holding out its hand in the dark.” (George Iles)

Even knowing Christ, we sometimes hold onto our familiar way of doing things instead of trusting and hoping in Jesus.  As you prepare for Christmas, I challenge you to name three things you will do differently this Advent season.  Substitute things that bring renewed hope and faith, rather than depleting energy and bank accounts. Work with friends or family to identify the substitutions. Chances are your friends may remember even better from past years what was exhaust­ing. Together, encourage one another to press on toward the goal. For example, “Instead of spending all day Saturday shopping for the perfect gifts, I will spend Saturday morning having coffee and devotion with someone for whom I’ve not made time lately.” Or, “I will spend time with my children to help them develop a common wish list.” By promot­ing a common wish list, children will be encouraged to negotiate with one another in individual desires, spend time together and share their gifts.[3]

If you find yourself in darkness this holiday season,
          hold on to the hope of Christ, the hope found in faith.
If you find a friend or family member in the dark,
          hold out your hand in faith that you can share your hope.

Hope is what binds us together,
          whether we are extending hope or clinging to hope.
Hope is what keeps us awake and watching
          for God’s activity and movement in the world.
Advent is a time to proclaim that Christ is alive and active in the world.
Our hope is coming!  Let all the earth rejoice!


[2] Rev. N. Neelley Hicks, “Hope…next year, things will be different!” in a Life-Giving Christmas.

[3] Rev. N. Neelley Hicks, “Hope…next year, things will be different!” in a Life-Giving Christmas.

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