“What Are We Waiting For?” (Sunday 12/9/12)

What Are We Waiting For?

Luke 3: 1-6 (Advent 2)


Here’s the thing I used to get confused about:  waiting does not have to mean waiting patiently.  I remember being in my grandmother’s kitchen waiting for something – for the fudge to set up or the timer to go off on the cookies.  I was eager for the payoff.  I probably kept asking her how much more time until it was time.  Finally she said to me, “Deborah, you have to learn patience.”

She was right.  Of course.  I did and still do need work on my patience skill set.  I get antsy easily.  When I know what I want, I want it right away.  When chocolate is involved, people can get hurt making me wait too long.

But that’s only part of the story.  That’s what it’s like when we know what we are waiting for – the timer on the brownies, the start of the movie, the grade to come back on the paper.  What happens when we aren’t sure what we are waiting for?

I started thinking about that this week after something Lacey said.  It was something like, “I know Advent’s different than Christmas and it’s all about waiting but what are we waiting for, exactly?”  Good question.

In the last reading we heard, John the Baptist quotes Isaiah.  The hills will be lowered and the valleys filled until the crooked paths are straight and the rough ways are smooth (Luke 3: 5-6).  When Isaiah wrote about that geographical rearrangement he was writing to people in exile in Babylon.  He was proclaiming that God would do the unimaginable:  bring God’s people home.  He was promising that God could and would make the crooked, scary, torturous road from life in Babylon a “wide, straight, flat highway [home] across the mountains and the desert” (www.gbod.org/worship, 12.9.12).  A way out of no way.

Maybe none of us has had it that bad, living in exile with no idea how or when we can get back home, but I suspect it might sound familiar nonetheless.  Have you longed for a crooked road to be straightened out?  For the way back home to appear, easy and straightforward?  Have you felt cut off from someone you love, praying for God to bring a way back to her?  Have you been looking for someone to love only to look out the door to roads leading nowhere and a lot of solo mountain climbing?  Have you looked out at the countryside and seen so many crazy, crooked, mountain-pass roads to cover between you and the end of exams – with no idea how to get to that place you see on the horizon?

You get my point.

So, what are we waiting for?  Are we waiting for the answer to our prayers – good grades, forgiveness, finding love?  Or are we waiting to be shown what it is we really want and how to pray?

This is where, with respect to Advent, I think my grandmother had it wrong.  There are no Brownie points for being the most patient person who makes it to Christmas morning.  God is not enticed to show up earlier or more obviously the more patient we are.  Isaiah and John don’t say Get quiet and patient and God will make that hard way a piece of cake and take you home.  They just say Wait and see.

It helps to have a picture – valleys raised up, a north star, a calendar to count down the days.  This is our Advent calendar from my house and this is how it looks on the last day of Advent.  In many ways, this is the image we move towards during this season…the manger, the star, the songs, shepherds, angels hovering…. [Start removing pieces here.]  But our long family history tells us that we don’t always get what we’re looking for.  We want to leave Egypt, then we don’t like the manna and we want to trade in our freedom for slavery again.  We were convinced God would come triumphantly, not with a straggling band of tax collectors and fishermen.  We didn’t know we’d end up at a cross.  Why would we think it would be different this time?

[Finish removing pieces until we are back at 9 days.]

The picture might come together again by Christmas and it might look a lot like we were expecting it to look.  But who knows?

Anyone with a television, computer, or a big box store can “get” the picture of Christmas – usually by Thanksgiving.  But we’re waiting for something familiar and wholly unexpected, like a king in the guise of a baby or God vulnerable as a newborn.  There’s an image, a picture, a light in the sky, a general direction we’re headed, but who knows what we’ll see when we arrive?  Who knows what sights will appear on the route and what God will say as we travel?

That’s what Advent is for:  clearing space as an act of hospitality to ourselves and to God.  Making room for God– patiently, with frustration, without an updated roadmap or GPS.  Making room for the unexpected.  Clearing space so we can see who we are dealing with – ourselves and God.

Jan Richardson’s poem-prayer called “Prepare” says it well (www.theadventdoor.com, 12/5/12):


Strange how one word
will so hollow you out.
But this word
has been in the wilderness
for months.

This word is what remained
after everything else
was worn away
by sand and stone.
It is what withstood
the glaring of sun by day,
the weeping loneliness of
the moon at night.

Now it comes to you
racing out of the wild
eyes blazing
and waving its arms,
its voice ragged with desert
but piercing and loud
as it speaks itself
again and again.

Prepare, prepare.

It may feel like
the word is leveling you
emptying you
as it asks you
to give up
what you have known.

It is impolite
and hardly tame
but when it falls
upon your lips
you will wonder
at the sweetness

like honey
that finds its way
into the hunger
you had not known
was there.

Hollowed out and worn down to your essence.  Clearing space, waiting until you are shown “the hunger you had not known was there.”  Sometimes you don’t know what you are waiting for until it arrives.  It’s OK.  God blesses the time you spend – impatient, polite, sulky, screaming your head off in the desert glare and heat, knowledgeable, or totally lost.  You receive the blessing you need for the time and space you have available.  Next year could be completely different.

Wait any way you need to, any way you know how.  Keep your eyes open and pay attention.  Ask questions.  We’re not waiting to develop patience and we’re not even waiting for the baby Jesus in the manger.  We’re waiting for God to show up, along the path and in our hearts, now and when we get there.  Wherever there is.

So, what are we waiting for?

Thanks be to God!



© 2012 Deborah E. Lewis