Isaiah 40: 27 – 31 Luke 1: 46 – 55
In this season of Advent we are waiting for the birth of Christ. Each year we remember the gift of God’s son given to us through the birth of a child. This year Advent has got me thinking a lot about waiting…
We spend a lot of time waiting. Waiting for the rain. For the crops to grow. For children to come. For children to grow up. We wait in the cue at the market. In the cue at immigration. We wait for blessings. Wait for direction.
We are all waiting for something.
And in Advent we hear the story of a people who had waited for thousands of years – not just for a bus or for a cold fanta – for the coming of the Messiah!
And we’ve been waiting ever since for Jesus to come again. But all this talk about waiting has me thinking about how we wait. It seems that the way we wait says a lot about our trust in God and in God’s promises.
My tendency, and many people from the West, is to wait with great impatience. We tap our feet, clear our throats, generally annoy anyone waiting with us. I know you have seen me and other expats in the cues in Malawi acting just like this.
It’s because in my home country we have done our best to eliminate waiting,
• one of the worst places to wait, probably in any country, is road traffic. So in America they have made it possible to do pay fines, renew drivers’ licenses all on a computer – no lines!
• In the cities they have timed all the traffic lights so that if you get a green light at one end of the city, you will get green lights all the way through town
• As a culture we don’t wait until we have money to buy things, we buy it on credit.
As I reflect on my own culture, it seems to me that as we eliminate the waiting, we have also eliminated JOY. When we don’t have to wait for our food to grow, but instead go to the grocery for our food, there is no joy in the harvest. When there is no waiting, there is also no anticipation or celebration. We have unintentionally eliminated so much joy and replaced it with demands and the thought that we deserve everything we have been blessed with.
Now, since arriving in Malawi, waiting takes on a different quality. Waiting is so common that I’ve heard people can earn money waiting for other people as cue standers. But for most, the waiting is a time to greet people, to hear about one another’s family and tell stories.
• people wait for buses wondering if they will actually fill up
• wait for exam results, wait for jobs and wait for scholarships, but often not believing in their hearts that any of it will come
• when we travel as missionaries to the circuits we are often greeted by someone saying, “we have been waiting since 7am but we didn’t think you would come.”
Waiting in Malawi is often the only activity. If Americans have lost their joy, it seems many Malawians have lost their hope. People do not complain about waiting, do not worry about waiting, they simply wait. But often not trusting the thing they need at the end of the line will actually be provided.
But as we read the Advent story find people who wait upon the promises of God with JOY and HOPE.
• The birth of a child. No matter what technology or how many computers, everyone in the world has to wait 9 months for the birth of a healthy child.
• And God’s promises. We all have to wait for the fulfillment of God’s promises. This waiting can be long. Longer than cues at Road Traffic, longer than a four-day bus ride from South Africa. Longer than it takes missionaries to visit all 22 circuits of the Malawi Missionary Conference. But even with all this waiting, we can never lose our joy in life and the hope in the promises of God.
In the story of Advent, the coming of Jesus, we find many people waiting with joy and hope in the future and in God’s promises.
• Imagine Mary, an angel of the Lord appearing to her telling her she will give birth to the savior of the world. I imagine some of us, graciously accepting the angels word and thinking, “we will wait and see”. Continuing the waiting without much hope that the God will actually work such miracles in our lives. BUT MARY rushes to her cousin Elizabeth with JOY convinced and singing songs of praises to God. The scripture we read today from Luke is her song of joy and hope in God’s promises fulfilled, “God has come to our aid,” she sings, “just as God promised.”
• And Joseph… finding out that the woman to whom he is engaged is pregnant. I imagine if Joseph were an American he would have politely thanked the angel of the Lord and then taken Mary to the hospital for a blood test to try and confirm the angel’s story. Eliminate the waiting when possible. BUT JOSEPH accepts the word of God, trusts in the promises and HOPES. He stays with Mary, despite the jokes and judgment that were surely made.
• The shepherds in their fields, blessed by a heavenly chorus wanted to go and see this miracle, joyous news for the people. Had they been Malawian, they might have made some nsima before they started off, sent one shepherd back to the home village to let them know they were going, or at least had a cup of tea before they set of. BUT THE SHEPHERDS said, “let’s go right now to see this thing that God has done.” They go with JOY.
• And finally, the magi, the wise men from the East. They are patient men, indeed. Each and every day they consult the stars, watching their slow progress across the sky and charting their movement. These are people accustomed to waiting. But still I imagine if they lived in 2010 and they saw the star rising, a miracle on the horizon they would have sent an SMS – Is the savior born? Why make the long journey? BUT THE MAGI set out. It may have taken them 2 years to reach Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus, but they set out because they had such HOPE in the promise.
As I reflect on waiting, it seems that the waiting itself is the time when God prepares us. God changes us. God works within us so that we are ready to receive the blessings when they come. If we eliminate the waiting, then we cannot be prepared. If we lose hope in the promises then it seems we are no longer waiting upon God, but simply passing time.
Isaiah 40 tells how we should wait. Because there is no doubt we will wait. We cannot eliminate the waiting. But the prophet Isaiah says, God does not faint or grow weary. In fact, he gives power to the faint and strength to the powerless. Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, shall mount up with wings like eagles, shall run and not grow weary.
Isn’t that amazing? I’ve never thought of waiting as a time to gain strength. Waiting always seems exhausting. Waiting in a cue, waiting in a bus, waiting for a child, waiting waiting… But now I’m forced to ask in all this waiting, was I praying? Did I have joy in my circumstances? Did I really have hope that the promises God as made to me would come true?
Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds, the wise men… it seems they used their waiting as preparation. They were prayerful people, joyful people, hopeful people. And so when God’s promises came true in their lives they were ready to sing, to worship, to go without hesitation. They were not weary. In fact they had great strength and power to go and do the work that God had for them.
For what are you waiting today? This month? Even for many years? What are you waiting for?
And do you feel yourself growing stronger in the waiting? Do you feel that you are being prepared for the promises of God? Or are you simply passing time? Are you growing weaker with each passing day? Are you losing hope in the promises of God?
Friends, we are reminded in Advent that even the waiting is a gift from God. Those who wait for the Lord, shall renew their strength. Ask your neighbor – are you waiting for the Lord?
This Advent look in the faces of your children and see the joy as they wait for Christmas. See the lights at the clock tower or in downtown Blantyre and remember the joy of life. Remember your dreams and your visions and renew your hope. That your waiting is not in vain. Your waiting is your source of strength and preparation.
Friends, we are followers of the Christ Child the fulfillment of God’s promises. We believe in an everlasting God who does not grow weary. We have access to the Holy Spirit who brings God’s joy and hope new every day.
Let us wait together with joy and thanksgiving and with hope that God’s kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
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