December 20, 2020
Waiting for God – J. Barry Vaughn – Advent 4 – Dec. 20, 2020
“Now to God who is able to strengthen you… according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles… to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.”
For St. Paul the world was a place of waiting: In the 8th chapter of Romans, he wrote “…creation waits with eager longing… We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains…” (Romans 8.19, 22)
How about you? How much time do you spend just waiting?
At Thanksgiving and Christmas many families wait anxiously for their loved ones to arrive. The weather report says that a cold front is moving in; the roads are icy. “They should have been here by now”. And we wait… and wait…
Most of us have waited for a doctor to see us. Finally she comes in. “Hmmm,” she mutters, “What is this lump under your arm? Better biopsy it and send it to the lab.” And so you wait with even more anxiety for the lab report. And wait… and wait…
A more hopeful but no less anxious place of waiting is the labor and delivery unit of a hospital. You have been waiting for nine months for your first child to arrive, and your wife has been in labor for several hours. Is it a boy or a girl? Will it be whole and healthy? You wait… and wait…
Israel’s history was a history of waiting. “Let my people go,” said Moses to Pharaoh. And Moses and the Israelites waited…
When the chariots of Babylon broke through Jerusalem’s defenses in 586 BC and carried her people into exile, the Israelites in a faraway land beside “the waters of Babylon… sat down and wept” (Psalm 137.1) and waited…
But above all Israel waited for the Messiah, God’s Anointed One:
Here is my servant…
my chosen, in whom my soul delights:
I have put my spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations….
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.
(Isaiah 42.1, 3)
Paul had waited, too, along with his fellow Jews, until suddenly, “as to one untimely born” (1 Cor. 15.8), it came to him in a flash (literally!) when, on the road to Damascus, the Risen Christ spoke to him: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” And the Pharisee Saul became the Apostle Paul, the persecutor became an evangelist, the “Hebrew of Hebrews” became the messenger to the Gentiles.
Paul, then, poured his life into proclaiming that what Israel had waited for had come: The Christ, the Messiah, God’s Anointed, has come! He took this message to all the great cities of Rome’s far-flung dominion. Finally, only one city was left unvisited — Rome itself. And preparing to visit Rome, Paul sat down and wrote a letter introducing himself and summed up what he had learned about God’s great gift that had finally come after so much waiting.
So, Paul closed that letter by reminding his sisters and brothers in Rome of what they had all been waiting for: “The mystery that was kept secret for long ages… is now disclosed…” (Romans 16.25) as today’s first reading says. It was Israel’s mystery, for it was Israel’s “prophetic writings” that had foretold it. However, it “is made known to all the Gentiles”, that is to say, to the whole world.
We wait apprehensively for our dear ones to safely traverse the icy roads, for the lab report which will tell us if the lump was benign or malignant, to learn if our new baby is whole and healthy.
In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe C.S. Lewis adroitly caught the flavor of so much of our waiting. The White Witch had Narnia under her spell, so that it was “always winter and never Christmas”. But Mr. Beaver told Lucy, Susan, Edmund, and Peter that “Aslan was on the move”. “Who is Aslan?” Susan asked. “Aslan?” said Mr. Beaver, “Why don’t you know? He’s the King…. Aslan is a lion — the Lion, the great Lion”. “Ooh”, said Susan, “Is he — quite safe?” “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver, “‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you”. (C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, New York: Macmillan (1950)).
In our lives there is too little Christmas and too much winter. But Advent reminds us that our God is like Aslan, who is on the move, and who is not safe but who is good.
Perhaps we can consecrate our waiting, and let each moment of waiting be a little Advent in which we remind ourselves that although there is so much which we await with fear, there is even more which we can await with joyful anticipation.
The next time you make a call and are put on hold, turn that into a little Advent and remind yourself that at the end of all our waiting is God.
“O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”
There is sadness enough in our lives, to be sure, but the God on whom we wait comes to gather up our sadness in strong and loving hands and turn it into joy. And so “to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever! Amen!” (Romans 16.27