Sermon December 7: Waiting Place

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Faith United Methodist Church

December 7, 2014

Second Sunday of Advent

Rev. Krista Beth Atwood

Scripture: Mark 1:1-8, 2 Peter 3:8-15a

Prayer of Illumination:        

May the words that I speak and the thoughts that we form be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Sermon:  Waiting Place    

I don’t remember much about Advent as a child, but I do remember always having an Advent calendar. Not the fancy kind with chocolates, or anything, but just a simple one we would buy at the Hallmark Store with windows to open each day telling the story of Jesus’ birth. Every morning, at breakfast, we would open the next little window. One window at a time, it would seem like forever until Christmas arrived. Today we still open our Advent Calendar at breakfast ~ Gary and I take turns ~ but I have the opposite problem. The little windows fly open too fast and before I know it Christmas is here with not enough time to prepare.

Interestingly, one of the characters never featured in any of my Advent Calendars is John the Baptist. Ever see John the Baptist in an Advent Calendar? If so, I’d like to see that calendar! With his camel’s hair and diet of locust, he doesn’t really fit the Hallmark image of Christmas. But guess who we run into on this Second Sunday of Advent? Martha Stewart’s worst nightmare, as someone once called him ~ John the Baptist himself ~ with words for those of us counting down the days until Christmas. Prepare. Repent. The One is coming.

The truth is, John the Baptist is totally inappropriate for the way we celebrate Christmas. He is the antithesis of the twinkling lights and perfectly wrapped presents. He would never be invited to the office Christmas party. Totally inappropriate. Totally inappropriate, yet absolutely essential. For he draws us out of ourselves ~ he’s a little bit shocking ~ and he reminds us in no uncertain terms for what, for whom, we wait. “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me…” Prepare. Make straight. Repent.

Waiting, though, is not often something we do well. You might remember the great theologian Dr. Suess’ reflection on waiting. In his book Oh, the Places You’ll Go, he talks about one place called the waiting place.

Waiting for a train to go

or a bus to come, or a plane to go

or the mail to come, or the rain to go

or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow

or waiting around for a Yes or No

or waiting for their hair to grow

 

Have you ever been in that place? The waiting place is a place where people are just waiting.

 

And Dr. Suess has a point, doesn’t he? It seems like we’re always waiting for something and waiting isn’t easy. We may be stuck in the waiting place right now. Waiting for the test results. Waiting for the job interview. Waiting for the best sale. Waiting… Waiting… Waiting. Probably the most difficult thing about waiting is that there is nothing to do but wait.

And this may have been how the recipients of Peter’s letter felt. That they were stuck in the waiting place.   Discouraged that Jesus was not returning as quickly as they hoped and thinking that maybe they had gotten it all wrong, they began thinking that Jesus may not return at all. Yet, they received a letter with these words of encouragement: “The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.”

Henri Nouwen wrote about waiting, “The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us.” While it may be true that when we are waiting there is nothing we can do but wait, that is not all we can do. As our Epistle lesson suggests, “While you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.” In other words, waiting does not have to be a waste of time.

So what can we do in these waiting days?   Besides the shopping and baking and wrapping that take up so much time in this busy season, what are we called to do? How can the waiting place become a holy place this Advent season? Perhaps we can begin by considering what we are waiting for. Are we waiting for the tree and the lights and the presents? Or are we waiting for the one who comes to give light to the darkness? The one who will bring a new heavens and new earth? The one whose sandal John himself is unworthy to untie?

Advent isn’t just a counting down the days until Christmas. It is not an opportunity to mark the shopping days off your calendar. Advent is an invitation. Prepare. Repent. Make ready for the One who comes. Again, Nouwen reminds us, “People who wait have received a promise that allows them to wait.” Waiting can be uncomfortable. Waiting involves giving up a certain amount of control.   Yet we are people of an amazing promise. We do not wait in vain. And, thanks be to God, we do not wait alone. At our best, we are part of the community of the repentant and expectant, gathered around the table of Christ, waiting for the Lord who has already come and who will come again.

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight…” Maybe I’ll see John the Baptist on an Advent Calendar one of these years, picking honey from between his teeth, but I’m not going to hold my breath. Regardless, John is one who reminds us that to wait does not mean to waste time.   Waiting, in fact, can be a gift, for we wait in peace with God’s promise before us. Prepare. Repent. Make ready.

May your waiting place be not a lonely place, not an anxious place, but a holy place. A place full of promise and expectation and ~ yes ~ repentance, as we wait, as we prepare for the One who comes. Amen.