Rector, Casey Shobe Sermon by: The Rev. R. Casey Shobe
Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration | Dallas, Texas
December 17, 2017
Third Sunday of Advent: Year B

The Difficulty of Waiting – Third Sunday of Advent: Year B

Texts: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 | Psalm 126 | 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 | John 1:6-8,19-28

When we began Advent two weeks ago, I preached about Jesus’ call to stay awake. Staying awake is one of the central themes of Advent, as we’re called by Jesus to stay awake and be ready, which I compared to expectant parents staying awake in anticipation of the birth of a child. One of the other major themes of the season of Advent is waiting. We’re all waiting for Christmas, of course, and during Advent we also ponder the wait for when Christ will come back. But the act of waiting is something most of us do in ordinary ways all year long.

We wait in traffic and for software updates. We wait for inspiration to strike and we wait for our waiter to bring the check. Those of you who are parents probably feel like you’re waiting for a kid to be potty-trained or drive herself or graduate college. I know many in our church are waiting for their health to improve or their bodies to heal from surgery or an injury. Heck, I’m sure more than a few of us are simply waiting until we can see the new Star Wars movie!

Whatever it is, we know what waiting feels like, because we do a lot of it. But as much waiting as we do, I don’t know that we’re all that good at it. We’re much better at doing. I know I prefer to have a task, something to keep me engaged and occupied. I barely finish one thing before I’m looking forward to the next. Archbishop Rowan Williams once wrote that “the hardest thing in the world is to be where you are,” which pretty well sums up how I feel a lot of the time. And famed preacher Barbara Brown Taylor puts it this way.

“Waiting is an aggravation…at least partly because we do not like being reminded of our limits. We like doing – earning, buying, selling, building, planting, driving, baking – making things happen, whereas waiting is essentially a matter of being – stopping, sitting, listening, looking, breathing, wondering, praying. It can feel pretty helpless to wait for someone or something that is not here yet and that will or will not arrive in its own good time, which is not the same thing as our own good time.”[1]

Yes, waiting is our Advent discipline year after year, because as much as we do it, waiting is something we never quite get the hang of.

Probably because I’m such an action-oriented person, I have always loved John the Baptizer. He’s like my spirit animal. I love it in Advent when we get to hear about his fiery ministry in the desert, fueled up on bugs and honey, preaching and baptizing and chasing religious hypocrites. I’ve always thought of him as being a model of an active, dynamic faith, but this week it suddenly occurred to me that John’s whole life was actually defined by waiting.

Just consider him for a moment: John knew he was not the one who was going to save the world, but he also knew that that person, the messiah, was coming, and probably even within his own lifetime. Just try to imagine what it must have been like to live with that knowledge, to spend your whole life waiting for someone or something that you know will change everything, but without really knowing any details. He didn’t know whether to watch the sky or the earth, to look for chariots of fire, or to listen for still small voices in the dead of the night. He simply had to watch and wait, and in a real way, that waiting defined his life.

Quite often we get this idea that when we’re waiting, we’re wasting time. I know that’s how I feel when I sit there waiting for software updates on my computer to finish loading. The irony, of course, is that I long for a few more quiet, un-scheduled minutes in my day, but when I’m staring at that little bar slowly creep across the window showing the progress, it feels like agony, not a gift. Same with waiting in the carpool line, or in the airport for a delayed flight. Waiting feels like precious time is being robbed from me.

But waiting is not nothing. Waiting is not stolen time. The act of waiting can shape us as much as the experience of the thing we’re waiting for itself. How we wait, and what we choose to wait for, molds us, because the big things that we are waiting for are tied to the deepest and truest things that we believe as people. John spent his whole life waiting, and it was a waiting that looked with hope to the one who was coming. He knew he was waiting for the light to come into the world, so he was willing to bravely speak truth to the darkness of sin and religious hypocrisy. He had confidence that whoever was coming was from God and would transform everything he knew, and that was enough to lead and inspire him through all the waiting. He knew his waiting was not a waste of time. His waiting was how God blessed and used him for God’s good purposes. His waiting was how he lived for God.

This can be true for us, too. Our waiting is not nothing. Our waiting is not just a waste of our time. What we wait for, if it is holy and good and of God, has the power to shape and transform us – and here’s the thing – this is true even if it feels like we never quite get to the fulfillment of our anticipation. Waiting has the potential to mold and bend us closer to the people God would have us be.

This past week I’ve been pondering something I’m waiting for, which may help make sense of what I’m talking about. I can honestly say I never thought I’d still be waiting for this, but five years after 20 first graders and six teachers were executed in their classrooms by a deranged young man with access to military-style assault weapons, five years in which 170,000 additional people have died from gun violence in our nation, and we’re still waiting for common sense gun laws. I have thought at various times in the last five years that if we are willing to tolerate the brutal murder of first graders, we have no shame as a nation, and we will never change. But you see, as painful as its been, I’ve come to realize that this waiting is not a waste. On Thursday night, we hosted an anniversary vigil along with Moms Demand Action, and one hopeful and inspiring mother reminded all of us that the past five years have included many important successes that keep assault weapons out of the hands of dangerous people. She reminded us that people are coming together to do something rather than just be afraid for our children. And as we prayed, we all remembered that the prophet Isaiah’s vision of a peaceful world is not just a fantasy for religious dreamers. It’s where we’re headed. We may be waiting, but we know where we’re going. And while we wait, we pray and believe and work for the good world God intends. Yes, we wait, but our waiting is not nothing.

There are lots of things we’re waiting for, including some that Isaiah was waiting for, too. We’re waiting for good news for the oppressed, liberty for captives, and healing for the brokenhearted. We’re waiting for women to be safe from evil men and treated equally by society. We’re waiting for racial reconciliation, and we’re waiting for people to take care of this precious earth. So much waiting, but it is not nothing. My dear friends, our waiting is holy. It is shaping us. It is part of how God is transforming us and our world. Like John, we must wait with hope and be ready to work for the reality for which we wait. Like John, we must hold fast to our faith that God’s good ends are worth the wait, that it is not wasted time, and God will bring about redemption in God’s good time.

So what are you waiting for? Maybe you’re not any better at waiting than I am, but maybe that’s okay, because maybe the whole point of waiting is to stay focused on what we’re waiting for. If it’s big and beautiful and kingdom-shaped, then the waiting is part of how God is saving you. You may not know the details. You may not know when it will come to pass, or what it will look like when it does. The whole thing may feel like a mystery. But God will be right in the middle of it, and that means that no matter how dark it may seem, how far you may feel from the end, you can believe that it will come to pass.

So may we wait—as people who believe in things that the world cannot see.
May we wait—because God is in the waiting as much as in the fulfillment.
May we wait—for Christ who has come and who will come again to redeem the world.

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[1] Barbara Brown Taylor, 139-140, Gospel Medicine, Cowley, 1995.