Waiting with Joy
Sermon: 3rd Sunday of Advent, Year B
Reading: Isaiah 61:1-4, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 & John 1:6-8,19-28;
Waiting on the phone, waiting at the check-out, waiting for VCE results to come, waiting in the doctor’s surgery, waiting in the car as we drive on a long trip – are we there yet? I wonder many hours of our lives we would spend waiting.
The strange thing is that, even with all this practice, we never get used to it, although some of us are a little better at it than others. What doesn’t help, of course, is that these days we are getting more and more accustomed to instant answers and instant results. Everything from a pregnancy test to the digital camera – there it is, in seconds. We are slowly building our world around our desire to have it right now.
Recently I had the opportunity to open and consume a special bottle of red wine. It’s a bottle that I have been cellaring for 14 years. When we first tasted this wine at the winery it was full of promise. It had all the makings of a wonderful wine, though in a raw and undeveloped state. Back then it was completely unsuitable for drinking straight away. I read my Penguin wine guide and discovered that the experts suggested this year (2005) was the year it should be opened. So we waited and waited for 14 years. And finally last Wednesday we drew the cork.
And the wine had changed – it was rich and smooth and complex and wonderful. The potential it had back in 1991 had come to fullness. It was fantastic. And we reflected, as we sniffed and sipped this wine, that our enjoyment of it was heightened by our waiting for it to develop. Our enjoyment had been enhanced by the anticipation of what that raw, purple fluid would become as it matured over time. The wine had come to fullness and so we were able to fully enjoy it.
There is a purpose in waiting – it takes time for things to be ready. It takes time to make us ready for them. It is part of how God has designed creation. One famous writer and theologian (Teihard de Chardin) said: “It is a law of all progress that it is made by passing through stages and that this may take some time.”
It is in this same way that God unfolds his salvation, in what we often experience to be lengthy and maybe frustrating periods of waiting, and we become impatient and perhaps even cynical, and yet we know by faith that God’s timing is perfect and that it is almost always different to ours.
This period of Advent is all about waiting: anticipation, the slow growth of joy coming gradually to fullness as we celebrate Christmas. Mary waits as the child grows in her womb. Israel waits. All this waiting is represented as we wait through four weeks of this season, lighting candles as we go and recalling God’s promises through the ages.
Advent helps us practice waiting for God. Waiting is part of God’s unfolding plan for our salvation and for this world’s salvation.
It allows us space to grow towards maturity and it allows God’s work to develop – like the wine coming to it’s fullness.
These three Bible readings are about waiting.
Isaiah speaks to us in the Old Testament reading from the distant past. From this vantage point, he puts our waiting into perspective for us. He shows us that God’s work in this world reaches over centuries and generations, and did not begin and will not end with us.
This plan of God’s to bring all things together in his love began millennia ago, and stretches into eternity. And we who are part of God’s great plan see only what is here and now and we wait for the full revealing of God’s Kingdom.
The Church is not just us here and now. We are part of a long history and, after us, who knows how God will shape the church of the future. It may indeed look very different. We often wish we could make things change or move or progress faster than they do, and we definitely have our part to play, but often there is also waiting involved: waiting for others to be ready, waiting for the right opportunities where God brings things together and makes new things happen in people’s hearts and lives.
In today’s Gospel, John the Baptist speaks to an impatient crowd who are looking for their Messiah. As he speaks, it is some 400 years since God has sent a prophet to tell them what is happening. God’s people had been waiting. And John declares himself to be that voice that Isaiah speaks about; the voice crying in the wilderness. John is saying to them: God has not forgotten. He is working and your waiting is not in vain. He will not disappoint you. The promise is not lost. The day is coming, and is almost here.
In the Epistle reading today, Paul speaks to the Thessalonians who are waiting, as we also wait, for that final day of the Lord’s coming. They are fretful and distracted and restless and troubled by persecution and doubts and worries. And Paul is teaching them how to wait. He tells them to pray, to give thanks, and, he says, do not despise the words of the prophets. Like John the Baptist, Paul points the Thessalonians who are waiting back to the promises of God in his Word. And he says in verse 24, He who has called you is faithful and he will do it. He will do it. Leave it in his hands. Relinquish control. God will bring all things to completion and fullness in his time, at the right time.
What are you waiting for?
Kids to become independent?
For recovery from an illness?
For the right life-partner to come along?
For the right job or the right home?
For life to settle down so you can have a rest?
For life to get going so you can get on with it?
Waiting for others to get organized so you can do what you really want to do?
Waiting for God to answer some long-cherished prayer?
Waiting for some vision for our congregation that is close to your heart to be fulfilled?
We have all been waiting for our parish worker to be employed!
Well, Isaiah and John the Baptist and Paul would say to us: accept the waiting. Don’t fight it and fret it and become impatient. It is part of the journey of God’s purposes, for his whole creation, and for you and for your life. The waiting is just as important as the arrival of what is waited for. God is cellaring the wine, so that it will come to fullness.
He is maturing our hearts, gradually forming our character, shaping your will and the wills of others. As we wait for the bigger and the smaller things in our lives (whatever they may be), we can be confident that the waiting is part of what God has in store. And we can be confident also that He is preparing us for that final completion that will bring the perfect fullness of what our lives are meant to be.
When we wait in this way, our whole lives become “an Advent”… we mark our stages on the way. We learn to wait with hope and joy for the small and large gifts and changes that we need. We read the promises of God in His Word, reminding ourselves of where it is all going.
And as we wait for that final ultimate meeting with our Lord, the joy and hope and anticipation builds towards fullness. God is cellaring his wine, bringing it to its fullness. And one day when the waiting is over, we will taste that joy in its fullness. And so we wait with joy.