november 29, 2009

Anna Blaedel
First UMC, Osage
November 29, 2009
1st Sunday of Advent—WAITING
Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm 25:1-10
Luke 21:25-36

This past week I listened to a story on National Public Radio about waiting. I didn’t catch the first part of the story, but I turned on my radio in time to hear people respond to the question: “What do you do while you wait?” In this season of long lines and even longer lists, big crowds and even bigger stresses, it seems almost everyone has a trick for waiting, and everyone is in the market for a new and better trick.

“What do you do while you wait?” One woman spoke of carrying her knitting with her, everywhere, so she can knit and purl a few rows. Stitch by stitch, she finds satisfaction in accomplishing sometime concrete while she waits. Time is not wasted. One man admitted his new Blackberry provides distraction—he checks email and arranges his schedule and does whatever else it is people with Blackberries do! Another woman downloads audio books, and listens from her MP3 player. A young father spoke of never leaving for a shopping trip without a bag of cheerios and his daughter’s favorite book—they keep her happy, which keeps him happy. A teenager described putting in headphones, turning up the music, and drowning out the hustle and bustle. One person admitted to doing a series of abdominal exercises that can be done standing in a check out line. Another admitted that he uses wait time to pay his bills—something that his Blackberry can apparently enable.

They all had ways they pass the time when they have to wait. What do you do, while you wait?

One woman’s answer caught my attention. When I’m stuck in line, she said, I look. I stop and really look at the people around me. They’re usually lost in their own worlds—cell phones, headphones. magazines, far away looks. I just look at them. And when I do, I start to see things. I notice little smiles, or tired eyes, or weary sloughed shoulders. I try to smile at people, especially if they look like they need it. I notice when people let others go ahead of them, and I notice when people push others out of the way to get there first. I try to let other people ahead of me. I see parents who are attending to their children with love, and I see parents who are as impatient with their kids as they are with the long wait. I just look. And I’m amazed by how much I can see."

I just look. And I’m amazed by how much I can see.

This woman seems to know something about how to live in an Advent season.

Advent begins today. Our lectionary scripture texts are filled with waiting. “The days are surely coming,” the prophet Jeremiahs proclaims. “Lead me in your truth, and teach me,” pleads the psalmist, “for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.” And the good news according to Luke promises, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars…Be on guard…Be alert at all times.”

Each year, as we enter the wait until Christmas, the lectionary for the first Sunday in Advent gives us a version of Jesus’ words about the apocalypse. This year, Luke sets the stage. In the 21st chapter of Luke, we read of celestial signs, cataclysms of nature, and distress upon the earth. Jesus speaks to and about the fear and foreboding people are feeling.

It can be a bit grim to hear these words as we hang lights and put up trees—as we enter the season that in Christian tradition is a time of expectations and celebration, and that wider culture generally paints as cheery and jolly.

And yet, as we cross the threshold into Advent this scripture greets us, and reminds us that our waiting is two-fold. We wait, metaphorically, for the birth of Jesus. We wait to celebrate the Christ who has already come to us. And, we also wait for the second coming, the eschaton, the apocalypse. We wait for and anticipate and look towards the fullness of time when The Anointed One will bring about the redemption of the world.

Lest you think it odd to pair Advent with Apocalypse, remember that the root meaning of apocalypse is Revelation—what is to be revealed, what is being revealed. God is, in every time and season, about the work of revealing God’s presence. Emmanuel. God-With-Us. God revealed to us, and in us.

We wait. We remember. Jesus did come. And, the world is still suffering. And, we are still waiting for God’s Realm to be fully realized.

Writer, minister, and artist Jan Richardson wrote, about this week’s lesson in Luke, “That’s what Jesus is really getting at in this passage, after all: he is not offering these apocalyptic images in order to scare the pants off people but rather to assure his listeners that they healing of the world is at hand, and that they need to stay awake, stay alert, and learn to read the signs of what is ahead. He is calling them not to crumble or quail when intimations of the end come but instead to “stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.

Redemption, drawing near. God-With-Us, being revealed.

Jan Richardson continues: “Amid the destruction and devastation that are ever taking place in the world, Christ beckons us to perceive and to participate in the ways that he is already seeking to bring redemption and healing for the whole of creation.”
Jesus did come. And, the world is still suffering. And, we are still waiting for God’s Realm to be fully realized.

So, we return to the question posed by National Public Radio. What do you do, while you wait? What do we do, while we wait?

Most people spoke of ways they tune out, plug in, dial up, drown out. A sort of “duck and cover” method of meeting the madness this world sometimes holds. Turning in, turning away, learning to ignore. But. The scripture is full with the call to do it a different way. “Be on guard,” teaches Jesus, so that day does not catch you unexpectedly. Turn away from excess and drunkenness…they will only distract you. “Stand up!” commands Jesus. “Stand up and raise your heads!”

Or, as the one listener reported on her waiting strategy—Look! Stop, and really look! You’ll be amazed at what you see!

When we raise our heads... When we look and listen for signs of God being revealed, and God’s realm of righteousness and justice and steadfast love coming to earth... When we know God waits with us, as eagerly and urgently as us… When we stop... When we pay attention... When we seek ways to work for and wait for God’s realm to be realized, on earth as it is in heaven… Then, we join with Jeremiah, with the psalmist, with Luke, with Jesus, in waiting for a day when God will come to clean up the world and establish the Law of Love.

People, look east. The time is near of the crowning of the year. Make your house fair as you are able, trim the hearth and set the table. People look east and sing today: Love, the Guest, is on the way.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear. Emmanuel shall come to thee…

The days are surely coming…There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars…Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down…Be alert at all time. Stand up, and raise your heads! Look. Look around you. And prepare, wait, to be amazed…

May it be so. Amen, and amen.

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