Sunday, November 30, 2014

What Are We Waiting For? Advent: A Year of Renewal

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It's an incongruent time of year--but then again, maybe all parts of the year are like that. For now, for me, football season and its accompanying Friday night team pasta dinners are over, and Advent (and recruiting season!) is beginning. Ending and beginning. It happens every year and it happens throughout the year, but we often just rush through or focus on our day to day life that we pay little attention to the multiple beginnings and endings. Qoheleth, the writer of Ecclesiastes, knew this well. Time passes and the same things happen again and again and again. 
 5 The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hurries to the place where it rises.  6 The wind blows to the south, and goes around to the north; round and round goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns.  7 All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they continue to flow.  8 All things are wearisome; more than one can express; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, or the ear filled with hearing.  9 What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun. --Ecclesiastes 1:5-9
And now we find ourselves in Advent, again. We may light candles, hear sermons and write blog posts about preparation and waiting, sing Christmas songs, and talk about how Jesus is the reason for the season as we finish our shopping lists and put up our decorations and insist that we're not falling prey to commercialism because we know it's about Jesus. 

And yet we still won't feel fulfilled. People will still be missing families they can't be with during the holiday. People will still have health or financial or relationship or school or work problems. Not everyone will receive the gifts they want or be able to give the gifts they would like to give. 

We still want something more.

We find ourselves in a perpetual state of waiting. Advent is just a short, four week representation of waiting. And we're familiar with the major theme: people were waiting for the Messiah, and today Christians are waiting for Jesus' return. Then and now, the time of it happening was unknown. 

Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.

We don't like to wait for anything. We don't have patience or appreciate how long it takes to accomplish something. We can send a message to someone instantly, but have lost the art of a well-thought-out letter. 

I think Advent, and life, is more like a letter than an instant message, even though we want it to be the opposite.

Waiting takes patience, silence, surrender, and not knowing. We don't really want to wait for Jesus to return--we want it now (probably one reason why Left Behind is so popular). We don't really want to wait to listen to God--we want God to speak to us on our time line. 

But sometimes, God doesn't speak.

It was believed that prophecy had ceased with the words of Malachi (probably why it's the last book in the Christian Old Testament) and then nothing happened until the incarnation, 400+ years later. 

Four hundred years of not hearing from God.

And we go nuts when people don't respond to our text messages in what we think is a timely manner. 

Again, Qoheleth speaks to this idea that we have of time:
11 He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. --Ecclesiastes 3:11  
As Qoheleth said earlier, there is nothing new under the sun. We're still waiting. We're still celebrating. We're still wondering what God is up to in this world. And when Advent ends, we'll still be doing that. We'll have times in our life where we will need to wait on something, when God is distant, and we won't know when it will end. And it's ok to acknowledge we don't always hear God or know what God wants from us.

Some of our lectionary readings for today acknowledge God hiding and not acting (Isaiah 64:4-5; Psalm 80) even if we don't often want to admit that happens. But our readings also include a lesson that tells us even when we wait, God is still faithful.
7 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.  8 He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  9 God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. --1 Corinthians 1:7-9.
We usually consider Advent a time of preparation, because we know the story we hear every year on Christmas. But what if we instead considered Advent a time of silence and not knowing; a time of uncertainty when we wonder if and when God will act. If we looked at it that way, what questions would we have? Would our faith be challenged? Would it strengthen or weaken? 

Are we willing to wait for God's surprises?