What are you waiting for?
Isaiah 64:1-9 and Mark 13:24-37
A sermon preached by the Rev. Adrienne Koch at the Cheshire House, Dec. 3, 2017
“What are you waiting for?!”
Have you ever used that phrase?
I’ve heard it this holiday shopping season—parents in the store, arms full of unexpected on-sale purchases, feet rushing toward the door, neck craning back over a shoulder because the child is not keeping up
“What are you waiting for?” the parent howls in frustration while the child stands in the check-out lane, eyes transfixed by the brightly colored wrappers and sugary delights of the candy rack.
As adults, we don’t care much for waiting, do we? According to research, “Americans spend roughly 37 billion hours each year… waiting…”
Picture yourself in a room, uncomfortably seated in a small metal chair covered with a thinning layer of gray fabric. The vending machine, full of snickers bars and skittles, hums steadily beside you underneath the harsh fluorescent lighting. Repeat episodes of Judge Judy or the Jerry Springer Show roll on as a tattered stack of magazines, slumped from careless overuse, slowly slides into your Styrofoam cup of stale coffee. What are YOU waiting for?
Is it an oil change, a dentist appointment, a photo ID, a medical diagnosis, a passport, a white plastic bag with “THANK YOU” written a dozen times in bold red letters carrying tonight’s dinner of Kung Pao Chicken and Crab Rangoons?
What are you waiting for?
We wait a lot over the course of our lives, sometimes in anxiety, sometimes in hope, and sometimes… just… waiting.
And so we zone out. We try to occupy our minds or our fidgety feet with something,
anything really, to “pass the time,”
as they say, as if we had any control over time’s coming and going.
We grab the magazine, we eat the candy bar, we do what we can do to stave off the uncomfortable emotions triggered by waiting: “stress, boredom, that nagging sensation that your life is slipping away.”
Is that why waiting is so hard for us? Stillness seems to trigger existential anxiety about our lives and our deaths—will we achieve all that we strive for? Will we ever feel as though our deepest desires have been met?
Maybe we don’t like waiting because it reminds us that we don’t yet have what we want, or even what we need. Waiting reminds us of our powerlessness. We cannot make happen everything we want to happen in life:
We can’t always buy the good car or cure the sick, we can’t make someone call or write or visit us, we can’t make time move any more quickly or slowly; we are unable to do and have whatever we want exactly when we want it.
There are limits to our power. Waiting reminds us that we are not in control, that we are not God – not even close.
“From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him.”
These are the words of Isaiah from today’s Old Testament reading.
Sometimes we think, “if I don’t do it, no one will, because deep down we believe that it’s not okay to wait on anyone else for anything that we really need.”
But we have a God who works for those who wait. A God who moves when we are still, a God who speaks when we are quiet enough to listen.
The word “wait” in Hebrew also means “longing.” We wait because we desire something—even if we don’t’ yet know what it is.
In today’s Epistle, we are encouraged by the Apostle Paul to wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, to wait for God to make known something that was previously unknown.
This Greek word “wait” also means “expectation”; its root is the word “welcome.”
For Paul, a waiting room is not a cell with four walls and nothing but celebrity gossip magazines to occupy the mind; waiting is not a punishment, but an invitation, a welcome expectation. For Paul, a waiting room is the space we make inside ourselves to meet God.
Today is the first Sunday in Advent, and Advent is the time when we, as a Church, focus on waiting for God; we think deeply about what it means to wait for that which we desire most.
What are you waiting for? What do YOU desire most but do not yet have? When you think about that thing, and are holding it in your mind and heart, then think about what is underneath it – what desire is holding it up?
If you know you want a vehicle that runs and doesn’t break down every week, maybe what’s underneath that desire is a longing for security.
If you know you want to share the holidays with someone who loves you, maybe what’s underneath that desire is a longing to be seen and known.
One of my mentors used to say, “Always wait for the second question.”
Someone will come to your office and say something like “How was your Thanksgiving?” and you have a choice of whether or not to make room inside yourself for the second question.
If you wait long enough, the real reason they’re there will surface with words like, “Well, why I’m really here is,” or “There is actually something I’d like to talk to you about…”
What is it that you really want to ask for this Christmas? Is it to know that you are good, or wanted, cared for, seen, safe? What if Jesus could bring that into the world this Christmas, all wrapped up, just for you?
Making room inside yourself to receive the answers to these deeper questions is the kind of waiting that Advent is all about. Advent waiting is like the waiting of pregnancy; like Mary, bearing within herself all of God’s best promises to us.
Advent waiting makes room inside of ourselves for birth, a renewal of our relationship with God in Christ. Advent comes around each year so that each year Jesus has another opportunity to be born in the wombs of our hearts again, and remind us of who we are and why we’re here.
The act of waiting may remind us that we have very little control over what happens to us in our lives, but it also reminds us that we do have some control over how we respond to all that happens.
We find out who we are, what we’re made of, and what kind of power is growing within us when we wait.
What are you waiting for?