This is a transcript from the December 9, 2018 sermon, so it contains the character of live, spoken communication.
We are in a season of waiting. We are doing a series called Christmas Playlist. We are talking about the music in the Christmas season that informs how we feel or what we think about it. Russ spoke last week about O Little Town of Bethlehem. I think this week we're going to jump off of that to "Come, thou long-expected Jesus."
There's a sense that we're waiting for the birth of Christ and that there is anticipation. That there is a deep longing for this child that shows up. Today, we're going to talk about, "what does it mean to wait?". Because most of the time when we think of waiting, we think of stuff like this: waiting in the waiting room at the doctor or someplace that your life's just on hold until that person calls your name. Maybe we think about it at a theme park.
Now maybe for kids, this is exciting. This is a way of anticipating the ride, but maybe for adults, especially if you're at Disney world, you're in Florida, you don't want to wait in that heat for a long time. Does this look familiar to anybody?
I bet some of us have spent many hours in this type of room at the DMV waiting for your number to be called. For some of us, there's even this type of waiting where just everything is on pause until something happens.
I remember when I would connect on the Internet growing up sometimes if somebody was on the phone or they're expecting a fax, it made a weird sound, right? Then my parents would get mad at me and they're like, "We're on the phone, you can't get on the Internet." What a world we live in now?
These are the different types of waitings. When we think of waiting, we're just waiting for something to happen. This type of waiting can create an apathy in us. We just don't care. We're just waiting for it to happen. We're just going to sit and do nothing.
It's waiting that makes us give up to wail and despair situations that you may have in your own life where it feels like you've been waiting for something to happen for so long that now you really don't have any more hope for it. You're done, you're in despair. It's a waiting that beats us down. Maybe it's somebody, a loved one who's battling addiction.
Maybe it's waiting for your boss or your employer to recognize the good work that you do. These are the types of waiting that makes us feel like there's no hope left. Our scripture today, it comes from Isaiah. Isaiah 4, 1 through 5.
He says this: “Comfort, oh comfort my people,” says your God. “Speak softly and tenderly to Jerusalem, but also make it very clear, that she has served her sentence, that her sin is taken care of— it's forgiven. She’s been punished enough and more than enough, and now it’s over and done with.” Thunder in the desert! “Prepare for GOD’s arrival. Make the road straight and smooth, a highway fit for our God. Fill in the valleys, level off the hills, smooth out the ruts, clear out the rocks. Then God’s bright glory will shine and everyone will see it. Yes. Just as God has said.”
The Israelites failed to be the people of God. Now they're in captivity, they're in the Babylonian captivity. They've been rescued by God once out of Egypt, but now they are slaves again. I would say, Israelis are in this moment of despair and now they're waiting and wondering if God is even going to show up.
Their questions are, probably:
did they have a future?
Would God work in their midst or simply abandon them?
Could God act anymore, or was God done with them?
They were sitting in a moment of waiting, not knowing quite what would happen. Despair that maybe God had given up on them. Isaiah tells the people, in our scripture for today though, that God is restoring all things, that God is up to something. "Prepare the way, God is coming to deliver and forgive God's people." This is a double meaning. At some point, the Israelites will be freed from their bondage.
Then also there's going to be this Christ child that comes and frees our hearts and minds to the love that God has for us. This is 700 years before Jesus comes. That's a long time to wait for people. That's a long time to wait maybe in that despair mode. Because of Isaiah his words to them, they are waiting with some hope.
The Israelites were put in time out by God. So many of you know that look. Where in your life right now do you feel despair from waiting too long? What are the things that weigh heavy on your soul? What kind of spirit has that created in you?
Because when we start to think-- When we're in our life and there's something that never changes and we're waiting and we're waiting, sometimes that can create a spirit in us that is cynical without hope, angry, sad. So where are you today? Where are the things in your life that you feel despair because you've been waiting for too long?
We talked about passive waiting, but waiting where we put things on pause, where we're not really doing anything, after a while we start to despair about where we're at and if anything is going to change at all. Now I want to talk about active waiting. What does active waiting look like? It's a waiting that's anticipating something. To do that, I want to use my dog as an example.
Some of you met Cal, some of you have had the blessing of being barked at by Cal. He's a very anxious dog. When we first got him, when we were trying to train him to be put away for a while, he would immediately pee on the floor when we shut the door.
That's how anxious he was. Every time we drive in the parking lot, we see him pop up like he hears us. He knows we're coming.
That's him when we were leaving. When we get home, everything's right in the world, he feels comfortable, and he just passes out, and he's asleep. What we're starting to discover is that while we're gone, he's not resting; he's alert and waiting. He's waiting for his owners to come back. He's a shepherd-type dog, and so that's his job. While we're gone, he's not sleeping, he keeps looking out waiting and seeing if we're coming.
He's anticipating that we will come home. He is preparing himself. He has to be ready for us. He has to be ready for when his owners get home. He is actively waiting. Active waiting is watchful, it tends to the needs of the moment. It's a way for us to prepare in some ways for what's coming. We're actively preparing. It brings you to the present. It makes you mindful of the things that are needed now. The people that are in need of comfort now, the people who are in need now.
In Christmas, we do a bunch of things to prepare, to the point of chaos almost, of stress that we need to get this and this done. Christmas will not be this way unless this happens or this happens, that this isn't ready yet, or this is out at the store.
We also actively wait for vacations. For vacations, you're preparing, you're booking the tickets, you're booking the hotel, you're booking all the other activities that you're doing. You're actively preparing for that.
When your family comes into town, that's a way of actively waiting. You're trying to figure out the seating arrangements at the table, or who can sit next to who. Uncle Billy may not want to sit next to Aunt Janet over here because they have different politics, or something else, or they did something to them earlier in their life. They don't get along. Or maybe you're just trying to find a place for them to stay not in your house.
When you're expecting a baby, there's tons of preparation there. It's a time of waiting, but yet, some people do the nesting thing. They put the baby room together, they get all the supplies they need, anticipation for the birth of that baby.
For some of our younger people in the congregation, college is one of those times where you're actively waiting. You're waiting for that day where you can get your diploma from high school, walk down that aisle, and then head off to college on your own, no parents to tell you what to do, but you're also applying to colleges, you're trying to find where you'll fit the best.
The Israelites, for 700 years, prepared themselves for the birth of Christ by retelling the stories that Isaiah gave, the prophetic voice that Isaiah gave. This was back when the printing press wasn't around. These were oral traditions. This was passed down from generation to generation by just telling the story. That's how they would prepare. Jesus came to forgive the hearts and minds, and save them from despair that we put ourselves in.
This baby was born into a world, it was a God who became vulnerable in a baby, a God who created everything, decided to trust in God's creation, to take care of it as a baby. It's a call to continue to become a new creation each day. The story of Jesus being born is a call to us that each day we could be rebirthed in the image of Jesus; to love our neighbors as our self, to be forgiven for the things we have done wrong. That's a way we prepare for Christmas.
Communion each month is a way to realign ourselves with God. I think Christmas sometimes acts as that yearly reminder of, "How can I continue to look more and more like Jesus every day? How can I let Jesus live in me so that I have the heart and the eyes that Jesus has?" Maybe we need to be rebirthed in certain ways throughout the year.
How can you actively wait for this Christmas season? Well, here are some of the things that you can do to prepare your heart and your mind for this Baby Jesus. There's always prayer. There are devotionals, our weekly devotional is out. That's a way so you don't feel lost that, "Well, I know I'm supposed to read my Bible, but I don't really know where to start." Devotionals help with that serving.
For some of you, maybe there's a tradition in your household where you go out and serve during the season. Maybe you help out at a soup kitchen. We're doing a wonderful thing with the Giving Forest that a lot of you have helped with. You guys are doing that, serving in a way to help those less fortunate than yourselves.
These are things that help us prepare our hearts to something bigger than us, to something that is calling us to bring heaven to earth now. Because it's easy in this season to get caught up in our own stuff. All the things we have to do, the presents we have to get, the parties we have to attend. That's a way to keep your mind on the bigger picture here, that this God, this creator of all the universe coming as a baby in vulnerable form to save us from ourselves.
Actively wait this Christmas season. Not just in the preparation of parties and your family coming into town, but actively work at your soul, your heart, your mind, to experience this story of the birth of Jesus in a new way that you never thought possible. That this story may be new and it may live and dwell within you.
There's a quote I want to close this with from Frederick Buechner. It says:
The story of Jesus is just the beginning for us. The story of Jesus is a reminder for us to continue to be born again, to be made new, to become more and more like Jesus every day so that one day, maybe this place will look a little bit like heaven. That's how we actively wait for this Christmas season. Amen.