Luke 1:46b – 55; James 5:7-10
I can imagine the scene at the local airport during the week before Christmas. Of course it will be this place of respite – no long lines, no short tempers, you can breeze through in about 30 minutes before your flight, get whisked through security and walk right onto your plane. Yes, this is just an elaborate fantasy at ANY time when heading to the airport! It is more like the following: arrive 1.5 – 2 hours ahead of time, check yourself in, wait for the blessed luggage tags to print so you can part from your luggage with a prayer of seeing it again, proceed to the LONG line at security for you to be ‘processed’ or even flagged for ‘special security,’ remove your shoes, belt, empty your pockets, watch your carry-ons as they go into the great beyond to be scanned, try to get through the magic scanner yourself without setting it off, then with any luck at all, gather your stuff, redress, find everyone in your party and head to the gate to – WAIT. Eventually your blessed row or boarding card number is called and you scramble to get through the check point only to walk down the jet way to wait again while others store their stuff and move into their seat rows so you have a chance to find yours. Is that a fairly accurate picture? You spend a lot of time, effort, and energy to hurry up and wait.
It seems pointless to get there so early when you still end up spending a lot of time simply waiting. But at any point along your journey to the plane you could be snagged – something could trip you up and possibly cost you your reserved spot on the plane. My family and I were trying to get to the West Coast to board a cruise for our 25th anniversary. It took us two days, numerous stops and frustrations, errors throughout the process, only to get on our cruise ship 20 minutes before the muster. So you plan and prepare, even during times of waiting.
We get that feeling all throughout Advent. If you have young children or grandchildren, the anticipation of Christmas seems almost unbearable for them and for us too. We seem to be constantly busy with more and more things that need done impinging on our time. We hurry and hurry, and then we wait. Finding patience is difficult at best.
We now have so many options to ensure we don’t have to wait for anything. Need to heat something up? Use the microwave. Upgrade your phone or tablet so we don’t wait for pages or games to load. Multi-task – do multiple things at the same time so that while the computer update is occurring you are off to the next thing. The idea of instant gratification is what texting is all about – the expectation is for an immediate response. Many no longer look at email much less snail mail. You don’t want to hear your kids in the car saying, “are we there yet?” Simply pop in the video or hand them a tablet – problem solved. The idea of waiting for anything is almost too much for us.
Since the Christmas season starts earlier and earlier each year, the waiting period gets longer. But somehow we persevere and finally Christmas day arrives just as it does every year. We are definitely in a state of waiting and preparation throughout Advent. [picture of bulletin board.] Our scripture from James is directing us to look beyond Christmas to the return of Christ as he promised. Jesus had told his disciples that if he went to prepare a place for them he would soon come again.
The problem is with that word ‘soon.’ With our predisposition for not waiting for anything, we may even settle for something of lesser quality if it means we don’t have to wait. Everyone tells me that instant mashed potatoes taste just like the real thing but I have to disagree. Nothing seems better than homemade mashed potatoes – but that takes a lot more time and effort. Think about your Thanksgiving Day preparations. If you are the chef you spend a great deal of time creating a masterpiece that is devoured in record time! That kind of time and effort is reserved for special occasions, because in spite of all our modern conveniences, we are simply too busy.
We find ourselves in a state of waiting during Advent – our time to get ready. We are to stay in a constant state of readiness as we await Christ’s return. At the same time we plug along with our plans to celebrate the birth of Jesus. The scripture read for us from the gospel of Luke is Mary’s response to the incredible news that she is to be the mother of Jesus – the Holy One; the son of God. The responsibility seems overwhelming for a young woman. She knew the danger she was in by the fact that the status of her engagement to Joseph was now in jeopardy. Her very life was in danger. I am sure Mary knew the customs of her day and the possible outcome for her as a result of her incredible calling by God.
But I do not hear fear in Mary’s voice as she sings, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” I do not hear despair as she sings of God’s mercy and strength. I do not hear sadness over the loss of her perfect wedding when she sings of how God has always remembered God’s people. I do not hear impatience as she comprehends her role as the bearer of the Christ-child. I hear joy and excitement and at the same time an inner peace and calm that could only have come from God.
Is it possible that we have steered off course a bit and forgotten the true meaning of Christmas? Have we forgotten why Jesus came to earth in the first place? ‘Peace on Earth’ should be more than just a beautiful line on a Christmas card. ‘Goodwill toward all humankind’ should mean just that. I admire the Salvation Army bell ringers who are so faithful to their cause, regardless of the weather. I try to drop coins in each time I pass because I appreciate their reminder that we need to help others. That’s part of our mission as Christ’s followers, is it not? We are blessed so that we can extend blessings to others.
Perhaps some of us have lost a bit of our joy. We lit the candle of joy today but maybe we just aren’t feeling it. Christmas is only two weeks away and the stress of the season can rob us of our joy. Our prayer services continue here on Tuesday evenings but I wanted to direct your attention to another special service. Our Longest Night Service will occur on Wednesday, 12/21, at 7:30 PM – during the longest night of the year. We are partnering with Davidsonville UMC to host this service for those who have experienced some type of loss and finding joy is difficult, particularly now. I encourage you to take the bulletin insert and pass these out to those who might find this service a help to them. Whether it’s the loss of a loved one, a marriage, a job, good heath – whatever loss you may be feeling I encourage you to attend and bring someone with you. We will share stories, light candles, share communion and anointing. Loneliness can engulf us and perhaps we need to be reminded that we are never alone. Emmanuel – God with us: That is what we can celebrate even in the midst of heartache.
In the Spanish language, the word for ‘wait’ is esperanza. Interestingly enough, that is the same word for ‘hope.’ Waiting is not a bad thing – it gives us time. Time to prepare our hearts – time to prepare our minds – time to prepare our whole selves for the coming of the Christ child. While we wait, let us actively participate in God’s message of hope. Share kindness with those in need. Care for yourselves and your families so that together we can live out the gospel in our everyday lives, even during our times of waiting.
A couple of weeks ago as we started Advent I challenged each of us with two things. First, I challenged us to adhere to our promise to spend an hour per week in prayer and scripture reading. Advent calendars are still back on the table if you need some help with this one. As you will no doubt spend some time waiting over the next couple of weeks, take advantage of that time to pray for others – pray for your family, friends, pray for our shut ins and those in need, pray for our church as a whole that we may live out our calling as followers of Jesus Christ. The second challenge was to have a frugal Christmas in order to give to others. Thank you to all who have helped us share God’s love in tangible ways to our neighbors through the Angel Tree and BackPack Buddies programs. If you want to experience joy this season, give back a little of your time, talent, and treasure. I promise you will be blessed. Amen.