This past week I heard about some holiday gathering where you could bring your kids to sit not just on Santa’s lap, but on the Grinch’s lap too. That’s kind of funny. Someone tweeted something witty about the villain of Hooville: “Just so we’re clear, the Grinch never hated Christmas. He hated people, which is fair.” Ha! Like Jean Paul Satre said, “Hell is other people.”
Today is the first Sunday of Advent. Advent is a season of waiting/longing. It is time of coming but not yet here. In another book, Dr. Suess says we all go to the Waiting Place.
“Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come, or a plane to go or the mail to come,
or the rain to go or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow or waiting around for a Yes or No or waiting for their hair to grow. Everyone is just waiting.
Waiting for the fish to bite or waiting for wind to fly a kite or waiting around for Friday night or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake or a pot to boil, or a Better Break or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.”
Think about the experience of waiting for a minute. Rarely is it good. Being told to wait is usually annoying. Like something as pedestrian as trying to cross a street after having pushed the signal button and having the little man in the box saying “Wait…Wait…Wait…Wait….Wait….Wait.” Alright, already.
If you are in a waiting room, rarely are you waiting for good news. You are probably at the hospital for some kind of problem. You could be waiting for the test results, or the medicine to start working.
Our lives are filled with all kinds of waiting. Maybe you are just waiting for the next UVA basketball game because it diverts you from the monotony of your life. You might be waiting in traffic, stuck once again behind a wreck on I-64. Young, harried parents are waiting for their kids to get out of diapers. They are waiting to for a good night’s sleep, only to find out that when the kids do sleep through the night, you are then too worried about them to sleep yourself.
You might be lonely and you are waiting for someone to ask you to marry them. You might be waiting for your husband to finally understand you, and love and accept you as you are, instead of the image he wants you to be. You could be waiting for your estranged son to call you, and yet another birthday comes and goes. Perhaps you are waiting for your business to be successful. You might be waiting for enough money to retire, but there never seems to be quite enough.
If you go into a nursing home and talk to people out in the hallways in their wheelchairs, it won’t take you long to find a half dozen people who are just waiting to die. Maybe you’re simply waiting for the 5 o’clock cocktail hour, unless you were my grandmother who liked to say, “It’s dark under the porch” at any hour. Everyone is just waiting. It’s possible you’re waiting for this sermon to be over!
What does it mean to wait? To wait is to not do anything. To not do anything is to be out of control, which is why waiting can be excruciating. Lots of people live with a chronic worry, waiting, as the old expression goes, “for the other shoe to drop.” I wonder how many men right now are waiting for someone to make an allegation of sexual misconduct against them?
Everyone is just waiting. As I said, Advent is a kind of Waiting Place. Especially in our first 2 weeks of Advent, when we are not waiting for Santa, or the Grinch, or even the birth of the baby Jesus. We are waiting for the crucified, risen, and ascended Lord to come back to earth to right all wrongs, wipe every tear from every eye, banish all suffering and death, and establish His Kingdom of righteousness and peace for ever and ever, amen.
Our reading from Isaiah this morning taps into our longing for God to act, to come to us, to help us right now. “Oh that you would tear open the heavens and come down!”, the prophet cries. Bono echoes this when he sings, “Jesus, Jesus help me. I’m alone in this world and a (messed) up world it is too….Wake up, wake up dead man.” I’m tired of waiting, Lord. Come do something now.
I suspect that we might feel an extra dose of this longing after the fall that we’ve had. From the violence we experienced here in Charlottesville in August to the string of natural disasters across the world to the latest episode of mass shootings, we are in need of some good news. I was in Birmingham working at the Church of the Advent when 9/11 happened. I remember Paul Zahl, Dave’s father and my boss, saying shortly after the tragedy that people will need Christmas that year more than ever.
It feels like the same thing might be true for us in Charlottesville this year. It feels like we need to come together with one voice this first Sunday of Advent and cry out, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down.” O come, O come, Immanuel and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear. Everyone is just waiting.
The prophet Isaiah speaks a word of comfort and hope this morning to those who wait. “From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides You, who works for those who wait for him.” There is only one God, and He is the God who works for those who wait for him.
This means that when your hands are tied, there is only one God and His hands are at work for you. This means when you can’t take another step, there is only one God and He will pick you up and carry you. This means when you have exhausted all your possibilities, there is only one God and He will do something that you’ve never even thought of.
Everyone is just waiting and God works for those who wait for Him. That doesn’t mean, of course, that waiting is easy or pleasant. The waiting is the hardest part, it’s been said. And it may feel like that you are stuck in Samuel Beckett’s existential play, “Waiting for Godot”, waiting for a character who never shows up. But I can tell you this first Sunday of Advent that God will show up. And I can tell you that with full confidence because God already has shown up. He has answered the prophet’s prayer, “Oh that you would tear open the heavens and come down!”
But God, being God and not you or me, answered that prayer in His own way and according to His own will, rather than ours. Isaiah wanted God to come down and make the mountains quake and all God’s enemies tremble at His awesome power. And often, that’s what we want, don’t we? But there is only one God, and the God when get comes to us in a different way.
Well, God did tear open the heavens and come down, but no one quaked at His presence. Because who would quake in the presence of an infant born in a feeding trough to a provincial carpenter and an unwed teenager? Who would quake in the presence of the friend of sinners who said, “come to me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest”? Who would quake in the presence of a mocked and brow beaten man struggling up a hill with a cross laid on his scourged shoulders?
God has already worked for those who wait for him. He has come to us in Jesus Christ to take away our sin and accomplish our salvation. And He will come again to make all things right and all things new. For there is a Light we can’t always see. And even while we wait, the only God is still at work for you. But, He will work in ways that you don’t and can’t expect.