Advent: Wait

(This post first appeared on HuffPost Blogs: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/advent-wait_us_5a1cb465e4b07bcab2c6996a)

Recently my four year old needed to use the bathroom while we were out to lunch. There was a wait for the men’s room and no line for the women’s. He did the expedient thing and used the women’s.

Waiting is seldom fun. We all have better things to do than to wait in line or be stuck in traffic or wait for the cable guy to show up.

Sometimes our impatience is a result of the hurry we are in. Sometimes, like my son, we need to GO RIGHT NOW. Sometimes we think waiting is beneath us. Sometimes it is simply because waiting is dull and life-sucking.

“Wait” is a difficult word to hear in our right now world.

Wait.

Wait for the light to change. Wait for the check to clear. Wait for the hour hand to hit 5 o’clock. Wait for the elevator to come. Wait for a text response (we know you saw it).

Wait.

Wait for the pregnancy test to reveal news or no news. Wait for the uncomfortable truth to finally be revealed. Wait for our fairy tale ending. Wait for the other shoe to drop. Wait until next year, next time.

Wait.

Wait for wrongs to be made right. Wait for things like cancer and murder and terror and sexual assault to be swallowed up forever. Wait for the chains of addiction to be broken. Wait for our sons and daughters to come home. Wait for answers to long-prayed prayers.

Wait for the darkness to give way to light.

We wait.

We wait in the tension of the already and the not yet. We wait because, as my wife will preach this Sunday, Christ has come and Christ will come again.

Christ has come. His Kingdom has been inaugurated. It is here amongst us, close enough to touch. And Christ is coming again. His Kingdom is not yet fully realized, but will be one day. He will make all things new.

And until that happens, we wait.

But we do not wait idly.

This type of waiting is about preparation. We need not sit in our pews and shrug our shoulders at a struggling world. We actively work and pursue and seek God’s Kingdom in our hearts and on earth as it is in heaven.

We do all we can and cry out to God for the rest. In our waiting we hope and lament and ache and pray for all that is broken to be mended. In our waiting we do not despair. In our waiting we trust that God is up to something.

Because this type of waiting is also about expectation.

In Advent the Church waits in expectation, in anticipation that Christ is coming. That this newborn babe in a manger is going to do a new thing in us and a new thing in the world. We wait with bated-breath for our long expected Jesus who brings good news of great joy for all people.

And we await his return. For the day when all waiting will be banished forever. Hallelujah. When we finally and fully find our rest in him.

This wait will not last forever, but this wait is worth it.

Waiting reminds us that we are not in charge. It reminds us that we don’t know best. This wait instills in us a very real need for our God. For Someone to come and fix all that we have broken. To make right all that is bent within and around us.

So this year don’t skip the line. Don’t hurry past. Don’t jump to the end. Don’t grab for microwave answers.

Wait.

Prepare. Expect. Long. Anticipate. Hope.

And believe.

Christ has come and Christ is coming again. I’m staking all I have on that. I’m here hoping and waiting for Christ to come in our hearts and homes, in our marriages and in our neighborhoods and in our public squares and perhaps even in our churches. I am waiting and trusting for the faithful love of God to rule and reign in all places and people.

The psalmist says it best:

I cry out to you from the depths, Lord— my Lord, listen to my voice! Let your ears pay close attention to my request for mercy! If you kept track of sins, Lord— my Lord, who would stand a chance? But forgiveness is with you— that’s why you are honored.

I hope, Lord. My whole being hopes, and I wait for God’s promise. My whole being waits for my Lord— more than the night watch waits for morning; yes, more than the night watch waits for morning!

Israel, wait for the Lord! Because faithful love is with the Lord; because great redemption is with our God! He is the one who will redeem Israel from all its sin.

(Psalm 130, Common English Bible)

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Advent: Hope for a Dark World

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Candles. Mike Labrum, unsplash.com

Turn on the news. Pull up your Facebook feed. Go outside. The world is a dark and messy place. It is full of destruction and darkness and death.

Battles rage around the globe. In Aleppo, Syria not a single hospital has avoided bombing. In the United States there are approximately 415,000 children in foster care, mostly due to the harmful choices parents have made. Families fleeing war wash up on foreign shores. 1 in 3 women in the world today is a victim of physical and/or sexual violence. We are still a nation viciously divided by politics and race and culture.

None of those things are part of the world that God intended. None of them are welcome here. And one day, all them will be defeated.

The ancient prophet Isaiah wrote these words about that one day:

The Lord will mediate between nations and will settle international disputes.
They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore. (Isaiah 2)

No more war. No more violence. No more greed induced destruction. No more hate.

The things we once used for harm will now be used for nourishment. We’ll turn our bombs into flower pots and machine guns into shovels. We’ll turn our tanks into merry go rounds and our jails into libraries. One day we’ll use our protest signs to roast marshmallows and the police will use their batons for a game of stickball.

This is not some crazy pipe dream. This is not some hippy fantasy. This is God’s plan and vision for the world.

This Advent we put our hope in that vision. And while God’s vision isn’t fully realized yet, it has begun.

It begins with the coming of Christ. A babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. It is realized when the hungry are fed and the naked are clothed and the lonely are loved. It breaks through when forgiveness is found and lost sons and daughters come home.

It doesn’t just happen in our churches. It happens in our day to day. It doesn’t just happen one day way off in the future. It happens now in our hearts and in our homes.

If one day we will put away our weapons, perhaps we should put them away today. Maybe we don’t fight with swords or guns but we’ve likely wounded and cut with our words. We’ve likely caused pain and destruction in the way in which we treat others. Lets beat our words and thoughts into things that bring encouragement and growth.

If one day all wrongs will be made right and all enemies will become friends and all strangers will become neighbors, then lets work to make that a reality today.

If one day peace will reign, then I want to begin to realize that peace today. I want to be first in line to make it a reality in my world.

We have hope that God will make all things right. That justice will roll down like a mighty river. That the things that now destroy will one day be destroyed. That darkness will ultimately give way to light.

That is our hope. And that is our mission. We don’t just live with hope, we work toward that hope. With expectation. With anticipation.

We live and work with a holy ache for the world as it should be. We put in the blood, sweat, and tears to join God in the redemptive mission to reconcile all things.

We put our hope in Christ and therefore reject the idea that we can hate our enemies. We put our hope in Christ and we live as ones who cannot be finally defeated. We put our hope in Christ and lay down our rights. We put our hope in Christ and live as ambassadors of God’s Kingdom and work to bring about the beautiful vision laid out by Isaiah.

This Advent season join in God’s vision to bring all people together and to bring an end to the wars that rage on the news and in our hearts and in our homes.

Let’s walk in the light. Let’s defeat darkness little by little, candle by candle. Let’s see the world as God intended. Let’s work toward that end. Let’s hope relentlessly and let’s be that hope with skin on. 

 

All I want for Christmas…

It is sometime in the late 80’s.  Maybe 1990.

The only thing I want for Christmas is a new Nintendo. It has the greatest graphics, the best games, and a Power Pad. A Power Pad, people.

I know we don’t have a whole lot of money, but that doesn’t stop me from asking for it. I tell Santa what to bring me even though I know he is only a seasonal mall employee. I tell it to my parents. More than once. I’m sure I make them feel guilty. But it is the NES and a little guilt has never hurt anyone. I need the Nintendo. I’m not positive but I feel like this may make or break my life.

And then The Day comes. Christmas morning. My brother and I come downstairs in our (probably matching) Christmas pajamas. We read the Christmas story to remind us that this day is all about Jesus, but I am too busy looking for Nintendo shaped boxes to be bothered by all that.

The gift opening begins. One of the first gifts I grab is a thin little box. Much too small for a Nintendo. It says, “Open Me Last.” About the time I find it my little brother notices that he too has an “Open Me Last” gift. It is a monstrosity, about as big as the living room or an elephant or the Titanic.

My heart sinks. There will be no Nintendo this year.

We open the remainder of the presents and (hopefully) I convincingly feign gratitude. I’m sure the Ninja Turtle toys will be awesome and the socks are needed, but in my young mind Christmas hinged on getting what I wanted. Disappointment reigns supreme. Maybe I am being selfish, but I’m really good at being selfish. It comes quite naturally.

When we have unwrapped all but the last two presents, my brother opens his mountain of a gift. It is a FischerPrice tool bench. He is ecstatic. Never happier. He dances. He hammers. This moment is most likely the inspiration for the hymn “Joy to the World.”

And my heart sinks even further. I am teetering at Grinch levels of despair. My brother gets exactly what he wanted and it is “The best Christmas ev-er!” and I get a tie box. I am sure it is filled with something lame and/or embarrassing. Like more underwear.

Reluctantly I undo the bow and the paper. I slip the lid off the box and inside I find a single piece of paper. I read something along the lines of “You have one more gift but you are going to have to work to find it.”

I perk up. I read the paper again. It gives a clue as to where I should look for my gift.

Suddenly, there is hope.

I run from the room and find another note. It sends me to another room and another clue. Room to room I run, eagerly in search of what might happen next. Each step of the way raises my expectations. Each leg of the hunt brings more smiles and anticipation. And then I open the kitchen pantry.

A Nintendo Entertainment System.

Santa, it turns out, came through. My parents are saints. Life is good. Christmas is saved. Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Sure, my parents could’ve just wrapped the game system and put it under the tree. They could’ve left it with the other presents but they wanted to give me something more than just a game system. What they gave me was an experience. They gave me a journey.

And it was the experience and the journey that made that Christmas the most memorable I have ever had.

We would do well to remember that sometimes the journey is a gift.

We tend to know what we want and when we want it. When Santa, or worse, God, doesn’t come through for us how we demand expect we feel rejected. If you are anything like me that can be really frustrating. I tend to think I know best. I know what I need and life would go a whole lot smoother if I just got my way all the time.

But God knows better than that. Thankfully He doesn’t always give me what I want or operate on my time schedule. Thankfully He has much more perspective and insight into what is best for me even when I don’t see it.

So when I don’t get my way or when things seem off kilter or when life hands you a tie box, maybe we need to remember to enjoy the journey. Maybe the journey is the thing that matters more than whatever we find at the end. Maybe what we learn and experience along the way is of far more value to us.

My parents didn’t leave me clues in order to toy with me or drive me crazy, but in order to watch me run and laugh and search.

What if that is what God wants for us? To watch as we enjoy the journey we are on. Maybe there are things He is trying to teach us along the way. Maybe the process is more valuable to our development. Maybe it is in the waiting and the searching that we have the most growth.

Maybe we spend so much time hoping for Nintendos and wealth and security and acceptance and relationships and [inset whatever it is you desire here] that we miss out on what God is doing right now. We miss out on the life we have been invited to live with or without those things.

Hold on to the hope that what you are searching for may just be around the bend or at the next turn or come with the next sun rise. Maybe it comes in ways you never expect. Maybe it comes better than you ever imagined.

Don’t miss out on what is to come because you are so focused on what is not yet. Don’t miss out on what is happening right now because you are so focused on what you want to happen next. Don’t miss the joys and the laughs and the memories that can be made right here and now.

Life is a journey. And the journey is a gift.

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