It’s hard to imagine that Advent is upon us. It seems to have come upon us quickly this year. I don’t know why. It’s not like the stores have had Christmas decorations up since October. While culture is ready for the sentimentality of Christmas, perhaps you are not. For many of us, this time of year is cause for great concern. Presents under the tree, or the lack thereof, magnify financial fears, or they make us face the uncomfortable reality of a dysfunctional family. For some it only increases the grieving of a loved one; adding to that feeling of absence in your life.
Culture tries to glaze over our hardships. But Advent isn’t always so gentle. In fact it can be rather uncomfortable. Kicking off the first Sunday of Advent, we get Bible passages that make us shift our cultural paradigms. While culture assumes a rather shallow display of good will and emotional warmth, Advent demands a radical change in our hearts, in our communities, and in creation itself. This doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, and it takes patience. And so we enter this season of Advent to wait. And wait. And wait.
Speaking of waiting, nobody waits as patiently as our new dog Daisy. She has this trick where you put the milk bone on her nose and doesn’t move until you give her the green light. I don’t know how she does it. I can’t stand within 10 feet of a donut without losing all will power. Yet Daisy sits there and waits with hopefulness and joy. She knows her reward is coming. Daisy reminds us of why Jeremiah is a perfect reading to kick off the Advent season. Instead of stories about a bright star and Magi, or an angel’s soliloquy to a young virgin girl, we get prophetic warnings dug from the harsh soil of human struggle and the littered landscape of broken dreams. In the bleakest of circumstances Jeremiah gives us hope when it seems all hope is lost.
Jeremiah is a prophetic book written to Jewish hostages held captive in Babylon. They are angry, scared, tired and beaten down. They have watched their beloved Temple be destroyed, and their holy city reduced to dirt. The world and the communities that they have known their whole lives no longer seems to exist. Those who survived are left with a sense of hopelessness. They feel abandoned and betrayed by God. They have lost all reason to go on.
Despite sign to the contrary, Jeremiah declares, “The days are coming….when Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety.” He tells his kinfolk that God’s future will come not from giving up on the covenant promise, but instead trusting in the creative and redemptive faithfulness of God. Given what is going on around us, you might feel like one of these ancient captives, a prisoner trapped in a world that seems hopeless and void of God. It might be an addiction, or a dead-end job, or an abusive relationship. Most of us are just keep our head above water, which becomes more difficult when loneliness or guilt weigh you down. We all have our story. And yet, we are all given the same hope.
Culture gives sugar plum fairies and toys that come to life, but Advent gives us reality. And in whatever reality you are you are living through Jeremiah’s words are able to speak to you. Even if we feel like God has left us waiting in the dark, we know we can get through it because something greater coming. And so we wait. And wait. And wait. Not for presents under a tree or an 8 lb., 6oz. baby Jesus; instead we’re waiting for “the Son of Man coming on a cloud with power and great glory.” This is God’s redemptive gift to the world. Jesus is that savior; the peace we desire; the hope we are clinging to.
I remember the day I sat around waiting for the surgeon to come into the examination room to look at the cancer in my throat. His office was kind enough to fit us into his full schedule. They even gave up a private room for us to wait in. And wait we did. For over four hours I sat there with Kathleen and my dad waiting for my turn to be seen. We waited. And waited. And waited.
I used the time to prepare myself for the reality that was to come. But my head was swimming with emotions and thoughts. I began to take inventory of every place I’ve been, all the things I’ve done, all the people I’ve hurt and the one’s I’ve helped. I thought about teachers, coaches, lovers, neighbors, and friends, all the people in my life who made me who I am because of the stories they wrote on my heart. It wasn’t until I was preparing this sermon that I realized it was in this time of waiting I truly understood God’s impact on my life. My joys and struggles became clearer to me. I am God’s beloved child. I am an heir to the promised salvation of Jesus Christ.
This is my hope that I still to this day cling to. It’s my reason to wait with joyful expectation. Eventually I saw the surgeon, who gave me the good news that my cancer could be destroyed with minimal damage to my voice. As I stand here today, speaking to you all, I can say it was worth the wait. In his blog entitled “When God Leaves You Waiting,” Joshua Roberie writes, “Sometimes what God does in the waiting room of our lives is more important for our future…Our part is to not figure out his path for us, but to trust him while we’re on it.”
Advent is a time of waiting with joyful expectation. A time to put all trust in God, knowing our future is secure. Our waiting is essential to the growth of our spiritual life and faith. The expectation of the fulfillment of God’s promises to us is what allows us to pay full attention to the road on which we are walking. It is in this time that we live freely and fully and faithfully to what God has called us to do.
Last week the Apostle Peter gave us this assurance. “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life.” In the glow of the first Advent candle, the light of hope, God gives us all the hope we need to remain faithful to God and to others.
Without this season of wait, we begin to wander and stagnate and become tempted to indulge in whatever gives us a moment of pleasure. We fall prey to culture and her injustice. Advent forces us into that reality, and calls us to challenge the many things that have made us so comfortable and complacent, that we no longer see peace and love as an alternative to war and violence.
As his world came crashing down, Jeremiah pushes his people to see a future; God’s future. His words continue to push us, and provide us with hope. As we look at the suffering and injustice in the world around us, let us not lose sight that Jesus has called us to name each one of them, and to challenge them, as we lean into God’s promise of an alternative future.
Bible, NRSV. Jeremiah 33:14-16; Luke 21:25-36; 2 Peter 1:3.
Anderson, T. Denise. “Living by the Word.” Christian Century 132, no. 24 (Nov 2015).
Charles, Gary. Feasting on the Word: Advent Companion. Edited by David Barlett and Kimberly Bracken Long Barbara Brown Taylor. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014.
Roberie, Joshua. Relevent Magazine. Nov 17, 2015. http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/practical-faith/when-god-leaves-you-waiting (accessed Nov 25, 2015).