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Sunday, December 9, 2012

What Are We Waiting For?

They say that Advent is a time of waiting, but what are we waiting for?  God calls us to live here and now in this world, between the first and second advent of Christ, and is refining us right now so that we may joyously anticipate the coming of Christ.

Vicar Neal Cannon, Second Sunday of Advent, year C; texts: Malachi 3:1-4, Luke 1:68-69, Luke 3:1-6

Sisters and brothers, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

Tick, Tock – Tick, Tock – Tick, Tock – Tick, Tock

What you’re hearing is the sound of a ticking clock that you only hear in the in-between moments; it’s the sound of waiting.  It’s the sound of nervously waiting in the lobby of the dentist’s office. It’s the sound of joyous waiting on your couch before friends arrive for the party, and it’s the sound you hear in the quiet moments, when you clear your thoughts and take stock of your life.

Tick, Tock – Tick, Tock – Tick, Tock – Tick, Tock . . .  The sound of waiting.

They say that the Advent season is a time of waiting and anticipation for the birth of Jesus, the Son of God.  Advent is the time where people put out their nativity scenes, and light candles, and if you grew up like me, you pop chocolates out of the advent calendar.

But these practices never really helped me understand Advent because we aren’t really waiting for a child in a manger anymore.  Jesus was already born, it happened about 2,000 years ago.  And of course we remember it and celebrate it, and we can even anticipate it, but we don’t really wait for it because it’s already come to us.

So what are we waiting for?

The term “advent” comes from the Latin word “adventus,” which means “coming.”  And in the Christian faith we use this word to mean that we are anticipating the “advent” or coming of a Savior.

In our Gospel lesson today, Luke writes that John the Baptist is called to “prepare the way of the Lord,” and, “make his paths straight.”  In other words, he is called to prepare people for the advent, or coming, of the Savior.

But here’s the thing.  For us, this advent has happened.  The Savior has come.  Our salvation is complete.  It was done once and for all for us through the cross and resurrection.  There is no salvific work left to do.

And as Christians we claim that Jesus’ first advent was not only about salvation, but also about how we live now.  It didn’t end all suffering, and pain, and sin.  Jesus didn’t overthrow the powers of this world.  But he showed us how to live our lives with love, and grace and compassion for our neighbor.

Luke says in our Psalm today that this salvation has left us “free to worship (God) without fear, holy and righteous before you, all the days of our life.”

In other words, because we’ve been made righteous we’re now free to worship and serve God without fear from our enemies; without fear of not being good enough; without the fear that if we don’t serve or worship God in just the right way, we won’t be saved.

So what are we waiting for?

We look around today and we see so much suffering, and pain, and sin in the world.  People are starving to death.  Women are being trafficked as slaves.  Bloody wars occur all over the world and vicious dictators suppress their people.  All the while our own apathy reminds us that sin remains.

But as we learned last week in Pastor Joseph’s sermon, we also we believe that Jesus will come again.  There will be a second “advent” where Jesus will return to us to abolish sin and transform the world into a place of peace, and righteousness and justice.

But this advent is not here yet.

Right now we are waiting in-between these two advents. We celebrate the birth and first coming of Jesus into this world, but we also wait and anticipate when Jesus will return and end sorrow, and death, and sin.

This is the tension of Advent.  Salvation is here but the world is not sinless.  We celebrate what has come, and we anticipate what is coming, and we live somewhere in-between.

This is important for us today because it allows us to say both something true and hopeful about the world.  It says that while the world isn’t there yet, that horrible things still occur, the Triune God has come to this world and to us and is working to make them better.

God’s continued work in the world is confirmed as Paul says in his letter to the Philippians, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.”  Notice that Paul doesn’t say that Jesus Christ has finished a work among you, or that there is some expectation that you are perfect now.

No, this work that Jesus does in our lives is just beginning.  One day, during the second advent, that work will be complete. But for now, we say that work has just begun.  And we wait.

For me, the question that still remains.  What are we waiting for? 

Tick, Tock – Tick, Tock – Tick, Tock – Tick, Tock

One kind of waiting is very difficult.  It’s a nervous anticipation.

Imagine that you are waiting for your name to be called in a dentist’s office.  You’re sitting nervously on an uncomfortable couch reading some innocuous magazine called Lifestyle.

You’re nervous because you've only flossed twice in the past six months, usually the day before, and you know you’re in for a physical and verbal assault on the gums.

It’s not the dentist’s fault.  The dentist is there to remove the stains and cavities from your teeth.  You know that.  But in you heart, you know that if you had prepared yourself better for this day, it would have been less painful.  And in your head you keep thinking, what was I waiting for?

It’s not that our intentions were bad. The last time we saw the dentist we swore we’d floss more, we just messed up the time in-between.

One night, we’re too tired to floss.  Maybe the next day we chew a bunch of hard candies.   Then one thing led to another, we just didn’t do the everyday preparation we should have.  And now, all we can do, is sit there nervously in the lobby, and wait.

Tick, Tock – Tick, Tock – Tick, Tock – Tick, Tock

But there is also another kind of waiting. Waiting with joyous anticipation.

Imagine you’re throwing a party.  You have all the food and drink ready to go.  You have games planned and music going in the background.  You’ve decorated your home and cleaned up your house.  Now you’re sitting on your comfortable couch at home, excitedly waiting for the guests to arrive. You’re excited because you know that when the guests come, you’ve done everything you can to be a good host.

Tick, Tock – Tick, Tock – Tick, Tock – Tick, Tock

It feels different, doesn’t it?

Either scenario can be what waiting in the church feels like, or what Advent feels like.  In one scenario, we know that Jesus is coming again and we know we’re not living right now in the way that Jesus calls us to live.

In our day-to-day living, it’s easy to get complacent.  It’s easy to forget to pray at night or to skip worship on Sunday.  It’s easy to forget how important it is to serve to the poor and needy and fight for justice in this world.  One thing leads to another and before you know it we’re not doing what we’re called to do.

Expecting Jesus to come feels like waiting in the dentist’s office when we haven’t flossed for months.  Like a dentist, Jesus cleans us up now matter how much or how little we’ve done to prepare for the visit.  It’s not that our salvation is incomplete.  That work is done on the cross.

But we end up wondering, what was I waiting for?

In the other scenario, we know that Jesus is coming again and we’ve done what we’ve been called to.

Like any party, we know that we haven’t planned things perfectly, and there is always something we forgot to do, but we’ve done what we can to be ready.  We didn’t just wait.  We’ve spent time in prayer and worship.  We’ve served the poor and needy.  We’ve fought for justice, and now we’re excited for the guest of honor to arrive.

In reality, we are always living out both scenarios.  There are times when we do what we are called to do, and there are times where we wish we had done more.

I think this is what messengers like John the Baptist and Malachi do in our lives, they remind us of what God has done and what God will do, and tell us to be ready when the time comes.  They remind us that we are called to places in this world and in our lives that are still a work in progress.

There is still work to be done before the guest arrives.

Malachi says that the Messenger of God refines us like silver, which by the way is a really awful prospect.  Refining silver means placing raw silver in nitric acid and heating it to 1,200 degrees.  Then the silver is churned over and over until it becomes pure silver.

The change that needs to happen in our lives isn’t easy.  It’s painful.  It requires a hard look into our lives.  It requires an honest word from a friend, or a life-changing situation.  It happens in that quiet moment when we realize, I’ve done something to hurt someone else, I only care about myself, my life isn’t what it should be …

Tick, Tock – Tick, Tock – Tick, Tock – Tick, Tock

This could cripple us with guilt until we remember the first advent where we were already forgiven and freed by a child in a manger.  And a second advent is coming where God will make us pure.  So we say that until Jesus comes back again that work of being made pure, of being refined, has just begun. And Jesus is always calling us to a new way of living.

So how do we discern that call?

I have to admit, I don’t think I can answer this question for you because it’s a personal question.  Everyone is called to something different.  We are being refined in different ways.  But I think the answer lies in the work that the Holy Spirit is doing in us and has been doing since our baptism.  That refining that has been happening our whole life.

Maybe you’ve been given a sense of love for the people in Africa.
Maybe you have a heart for the environment.
Maybe you’ve always wanted to invite a friend into this loving and grace filled world we call the church but haven’t yet had the courage.
Maybe God is calling you back to prayer and to worship.
Maybe God is calling you to seek forgiveness from a friend, or to give it to an enemy.

We are all called to do something different.  The question we have is, what are we waiting for? God is calling us to live here and now in this world.

However God calls us to prepare for this second advent, know that the child in a manger has already come and freed us from guilt and fear, and it is grace to know that the Spirit is refining/working in us even now so that we may live in joyous anticipation of Jesus Christ.

The only question that remains is, what are we waiting for?

Thanks be to God.

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