Can waiting really be good for us?
Believe it or not, waiting is good for us.
We spend so much of our lives waiting. We put things on our calendar and wait for them to come. We wait for a meal to be ready at a restaurant, sitting in the company of friends and family in anticipation. We wait for the next raise or promotion at work. We wait for the kids to get home from school. We wait for a release from our pain or suffering, or an end to anxiety or depression.
Advent as a season of the church year is all about waiting. Waiting certainly doesn't always feel good, and sometimes while we wait, we're left asking, why? Why am I left waiting?
John the Baptist is in this exactly position in the scripture readings for Advent this week. Of all people, you would think John the Baptist would get it. John is the one who came into the wilderness, preaching a baptism for the repentance. John's the one that got the whole ball rolling on Jesus' ministry. John was a tremendous prophet whose movement might have been much larger than even that of Jesus! And yet sitting in prison, waiting and wondering, he sends his followers to ask Jesus' disciples:
“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
Even John is wondering, do we need to keep waiting?
For all of us, this waiting period we find ourselves in can be tremendously difficult. After all, its so much more than the kids coming home from school or for an end to our physical pain that we wait. We're waiting for salvation.
If you're a believer in God and a follower of Jesus, it is easy to look around at the world and say, why are we still waiting? Jesus came at Christmas. We believe God was born a human being to save us. Yet, here we are 2,000 years later, still waiting for things to get better. There's still so much suffering in this world, so much violence, war, oppression, injustice, disease, famine, and death. Where is the promised salvation?
Jesus' answer to John is striking: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them."
Go and tell John what you hear and see. Jesus for the millionth time doesn't answer the question. He tells John, and he tells us all, really take a look and see for yourself. See for yourself!
So here's the key, why waiting is good for us. During this time of waiting, we have the opportunity to learn and realize that it is our own perception that needs to change. God is inviting us not just to wait, but to grow, to change, to learn, and to see as God sees. We can look around the world and see injustice, oppression, suffering, disease, violence, and war. We can look at our own lives and see hardship, things not as good as they could be, lack of money, struggles in our relationships, or whatever you are going through.
We can also look and see what God is doing in the world. We can see healing of disease. We can see love in our lives, and the strength God provides even in hardship and suffering. We can see all of those working for justice, striving for peace, reconciling relationships. We can see opportunity to be God's hands, feet, face, and voice in the world, chances we have to serve God's kingdom by bringing good news to others.
This week James reminds us to practice this exact kind of active patience:
"Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord."
Advent is an opportunity for us to be reminded to practice active patience, to strengthen our hearts during this time of waiting. God doesn't ask us to wait for no reason. This time of waiting is forming us, shaping us into who God is calling us to be.
Our theme at IHS this year is "Born of Water and Spirit: God's Promise to All Creation." Being born again is not about pie-in-the-sky salvation that happens after we die. God's salvation is now. God's salvation is freedom, healing, justice, and peace. Being born again means being transformed to see the world as God sees the world, and being transformed to work toward salvation for all creation in our day to day lives.
This week we hear this promise from the prophet Isaiah. This is what God is calling us to be and do:
"The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, "Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you." Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes. A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God's people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray. No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away."
Let us learn to wait, not inactively, but actively patient. Let us bring good news with our words and our actions. Let's strengthen weak hands and make firm the feeble knees. Let us remember this Advent that we are called to wait on the Lord, and to bring his salvation to all creation during this time of waiting for his final judgment.