Readings Genesis 17:15-22, Romans 8:18-25, Luke 1:39-45
How do you tend to go when you have to wait?
Across the three readings today, we have three different reactions to a promise that’s something is coming, three different ways of waiting.
In Romans, Paul speaks of the whole of creation waiting with eager longing for the day it is set free from bondage, all of creation groans in labour pains – groaning as we do too – for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
In Genesis, Abraham fell on his face and laughed at the promise of God that Sarah will become many nations, that rulers of peoples shall come into being through her.
In the Gospel, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaps with joy, and Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaims with a loud cry at the presence of Mary, the mother of Elizabeth’s sovereign!
We are in Advent, a focused season of waiting. I say focused because for the church we live perpetually in a season of waiting, an in-between time between the coming of Christ, born of Mary in the manger, and the coming again of Christ at the end of the age, with the restoration of all things on his heels. Christians are a people who – to use the language of Peter, hasten and wait.
This doesn’t mean we’re a passive people, who abdicate all responsibility of care and service and justice in the world in the hope that Jesus will do it later, but we are a people who understand that the whole creation groans out for something more than we can give it, something more than we can provide through human striving. The kingdom of heaven, the new creation, the reconciled and redeemed world of the age to come where all swords will be beaten into ploughshares, where lion will lie down with lamb, and where we will live in the perfect peace before the full, unveiled presence of God is not in our control, is not a matter of our doing. We can witness to it our words, we can offer foretastes in our actions, we can cry out for it in prayer, but it is not ours to wield… it is the work of Christ, and will happen in Christ’s time…
But how do we feel about that? What’s it feel like to wait for that?
Because the world is groaning… it is hurting… and it has been hurting for some time. There’s the pandemic, the climate crisis, and a loneliness epidemic. We’ve been through royal commissions exposing deep breaches in trust in aged care, banking, and the church. Ongoing gender inequality and story after story of horrific gendered violence. Systemic racism and too many stories of Black deaths in custody and the destruction of sacred sites. Floods and droughts, landslides and hurricanes. Overexploited countries where the masses lack their daily bread, folks in the Pacific losing homes to rising waters. More and more species of plant life and animal going (or at risk of) extinction. With all of this and more, the global struggles and the local pain, how do we go on waiting?
Even the stories of biblical annunciation, where the promise of a child is signified of God’s blessing, promise, and presence, are received differently today, where – more than any time in recent history – young people are recording greater and greater hesitation and concern about bringing a child into the world.
Advent is a time for taking stock. A season in which we take a good hard look at the state of our communities, our world. It is not a time to look away to pretend all is as it should be. Were that the case, then there is no need to look to the horizon in the hope of Christ and the perfect peace of Christ’s kingdom. As those who follow Christ, who declared that he himself was the truth, we must not seek to obscure the truth of how things are in the world – even if it has not been our experience.
And yet, perhaps paradoxically, looking square at the truth of the world as it is, can make it both harder to wait for Christ and make our waiting all the more palpable! Harder in the sense of the incredulity that Abraham felt – why don’t you just do something now! Surely it is within your power! And more palpable in the sense that, like Elizabeth we react with joy that there is something coming! That history is not just one thing after another, not just a succession of unredeemed suffering and injustice, but that, history has an end, a very particular end, found in Christ, found in the perfect peace of the Triune God who will not abandon humanity no matter what.
And our feelings toward waiting for God doesn’t have to be one or the other, we don’t have to snuff out and ignore our feelings of woe and frustration, our angst at the state of things, our questions of why it is this way… and we also don’t need to feel irresponsible in believing that there will come a moment, where the fullness of the new creation breaks through and the lowly shall be lifted up and the fullness of creation restored and renewed. Some days we might be like Abraham laughing, like Sarah feeling that this is all being talked about without us, like Paul confident in what is to come, like creation groaning in labour pains, or like Elizabeth brimming with joy at encountering a foretaste of what God is about to do.
Amidst all that feeling around waiting, the question is also posed: how will we hasten and wait? What do we do while waiting, or perhaps better put, how does our posture as those who wait shape what we do?
We seek to wait in a way that is befitting of that which we wait for. We wait for the justice of God which overturns exploitation and raises up the lowly – so let us wait in our work for justice. We wait for Christ who will wipe all tears from our eyes – so let us wait in our comfort and care of one another. We wait for God who has given us a spirit of adoption – so let us wait by treating our neighbours and strangers with dignity befitting those who bear God’s image. We wait for the Spirit who fills our cup with joy – so let us wait in our gladness and celebration. We wait for Christ who breaks down dividing walls of hostility – so let us wait in our work for unity and reconciliation. We wait for Christ who brings a kingdom of peace, a peace that knows no end – so let us wait, as people of peace.
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