What are you waiting for?

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No one likes to wait. Remember staring at presents under the Christmas tree? Or arriving famished at your favorite restaurant and the maître d’ tells you 90 minutes? Or standing in line forever at Disney’s Space Mountain to get to the sign that says, “Time from this point: 2 hours.”

The archetypal wait of my life was waiting for our daughter to be born. It took us a long time to conceive, so I was very excited about the pregnancy. I tummy talked from the very start. I could hardly wait for the arrival. But, as often happens with first children, our baby was late. Finally, the doctor said, “If nothing happens by day 10, we will induce.” We induced, and even then, Ellie still wouldn’t come. We walked the maternity floor’s hallways for hours. She took so long I actually got to deliver my daughter myself. Seriously.

With a onesy on my head I hovered over the doctor during the delivery like an umpire. I was so close he finally said, “Matt, two don’t fit down here. Either back up or get in here and deliver this baby yourself.” So I did.

After another push…our wait was over.

The season of Advent is all about waiting. Waiting and watching. We want to get to the end, but we have to wait, like waiting for a baby who refuses to come.

Perhaps you are doing some waiting in your life. Perhaps the waiting and watching are overcoming you. If that is you, consider the lyrics of a waiting pregnant woman’s song: In Luke 1:46-55 the virgin Mary sings a song known to history as, “The Magnificat.” Mary sang, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Mary too, in need of a savior, instructs us on waiting. From Mary we learn: How to wait, why to wait, and to whom should we look as we wait.

I. How to wait:  

In Mary’s wait, Magnifying the Lord and rejoicing in God made a difficult wait easier. Yes, an angel of the Lord had come to Mary and told a virgin she would bear a son, and yes, Mary acquiesced willingly. But doing things God’s way would have gotten complicated quickly: The glares from a distance, the clucking self-righteous with their rumors and innuendo, the shaming taunts, “An angel you say? We aren’t as naive as that fiancé of yours.”  No wonder Mary sought solace in another expectant mother, a relative conveniently located in another town. Yet, in her soul, Mary magnified the Lord. Mary teaches us to wait exercising the sacrifice of praise.

II. Why Wait? 

48 he has looked on the humble estate of his servant For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for he who is mighty has done great things for meand holy is his name. 50 And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. For Mary, God is thrice dependable: God sees Mary. God does “great things” for Mary. And the mercy of God is not just for Mary, but for all those who fear him.”

III. To whom should we look as we wait? 

Notice the completed tense verbs in v 51-53… 51 He has shown strength with his armscattered the proud, 52 …brought down the mighty…exalted those of humble estate; 53 …filled the hungrythe rich…sent away empty54 He has helped his servant Israel. Mary lists seven ways God is faithful. Seven, the number of God’s perfection. All are expressed as completed actions, even though they still have not come to pass. It is an airtight case laid out in song that God’s character is utterly dependable: “in remembrance of his mercy,55 as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

Waiting is hard. Waiting is lonely. And I have noticed, that when I look for my deliverance from the wrong sources, waiting is discouraging. It doesn’t take a NASA scientist to realize that our deliverance will not come through human progress, or politics, or the goodness of family and friends, not even through a great romance. Yet we continue to look for deliverance from sources that cannot deliver. The Lord is the only source who will not let us down. Magnify Him!

What are you waiting for? 

At a crosswalk when someone doesn’t know which way to go, they stop and clog traffic. Often, we wait because we don’t know which way is forward…in other words, we’re lost. Interestingly, the Bible says we are all lost. Some people think that the Bible says we are evil and need obliterating. But the Bible actually says we are lost and need to be found…that for most of us our problem isn’t badness, just lostness. What do lost people look like?

-Lost people pursue the world and what it offers.

-Lost people come to believe that the way to have a great life is to try to control it.

-Lost people think that somehow money or sex or power or pleasure can fill the deep ache inside.

-Lost people think there is another source of life besides the God who created us then joined us 2,000 years ago to redeem us when we wandered off and became lost.

Have you lost your way? In your relationships, your work, your calling, your parenting, your desires, your values – have you lost your way?

We all get lost. The ancient prophet Isaiah said it like this: “All we like sheep have gone astray.” Lost sheep need to be found. Only in “God our savior” can our spirit rejoice in a true and lasting way.

Mary tells us at the end of her song that God is great: The “mighty one.” But God is also good, “his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.”

How merciful is God? So merciful that Jesus went to a cross to rescue lost folk just like us. In fact, later in Luke’s gospel Jesus says it straight out, “I came to seek and save the lost.”

Could Jesus be talking to you?

Waiting is frustrating. Waiting in the dark can be terrifying. Being stopped in the middle of a crowded intersection, being bypassed by a world that appears to know where it is going feels like hell. But the Good News is that God seeks and saves the lost. And, as Mary shows us, we can wait on God, because God always follows through on his promises, so much so that we can behold them as already accomplished when we behold them with eyes of faith.

What are you waiting for? 

In the eternal realms the beginning of all things being set right is at hand. Wait on God. The ultimate finder of the lost is worth the wait. Wait on God. The time for our delivery is at hand. Let him bring you new birth. Wait on God. When you do, you will find in your waiting, that the Lord will make your heart sing too.

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Our King and Savior Now Draws Near

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Folks have asked for the sermon that got the “Jesus count” upped after looking at its tag cloud. Here it is…

Today is Rejoice Sunday. The Advent pivot. Today we make the turn from repentance to anticipation. Today we turn toward Jesus. In Matins, the monastic morning prayer service, there is a call and response exclamation of praise called an antiphon. The antiphon in Advent is, “Your King and Savior now draws near.” The congregation gives the logical and heartfelt response, “O come let us adore him.”

Today, as our King and Savior draws near let’s turn our attention to our Old Testament reading, Isaiah chapter 35, written centuries before the birth of Jesus.

Isaiah opens with 39 chapters of God’s impending judgment. There is destruction, desolation, and ecological and political disaster.

Here is a brief sample of the tenor of Isaiah’s warnings from Chapter 34: “Come here and listen, O nations of the earth…the Lord is enraged…His fury is against all their armies. He will completely destroy them, dooming them to slaughter. Their dead will be left unburied, and the stench of rotting bodies will fill the land. The mountains will flow with their blood.”

This is not Christmas material.

For 39 chapters Isaiah tells us that God too has a list. And after checking it twice he has declared, “everyone has been naughty.” The list is unsparing: Judah, their enemies…even obscure nations scholars have a hard time locating on a map. God’s indictments through Isaiah hit, for me at least, uncomfortably close to home: You have treated the poor badly. Ignored your God to pursue the god of your own appetite. You are looking for protection from those who cannot defend you. And the logical consequences are coming…

But right in the middle of it alldropped into the midst of the judgments, like intermission in a movie too long to sit through without a popcorn break, comes chapter 35.

Some say this hopeful song belongs after chapter 40, when Isaiah’s message changes from correction to comfort. Others argue that it should come even later – after the exile. Either way, this poem appears glaringly out of place.

It is as if the Spirit hovered over the scribes who assembled Isaiah’s prophecies and whispered, “Put that over here.”

In the middle of the bad news, God Interrupts.

With words out of place that will not wait until we make things right.

…Words of hope against all evidence and reason.

Isn’t that just like God?

Look with me at Isaiah, chapter 35. The chapter is a song in four stanzas:

Stanza 1: v. 1-2  The desert will bloom – The desert is inhospitable. We have tamed it with asphalt and Air-conditioning, but ask a family trying to get to the US on foot about the desert. Every decade or so, though, we have a wet Spring and wildflowers are everywhere. God’s new Kingdom, the one that started at Jesus’ first coming and will be made complete when he returns, will be like that.

Stanza 2: v. 3-4  So, God says, and here the old Sam & Dave song comes to mind, “Hold on, I’m com in.”

Stanza 3: v. 5-7  Humans too will thrive like the desert coming to life!

Stanza 4: v. 8-10  8 “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. -You cannot get lost following God’s road. Not even if you are directionally challenged!

9 “No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,”  – God has a new Kingdom in which we will, each and every one of us, be safe.

“the redeemed shall walk there. 10 And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing.” The “redeemed”-those God has bought back. The “ransomed” – those God paid a price for. Our great price payer- God himself is coming. Jesus is on the horizon. And all things will be made new.

And it ends like this: “everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness,
    and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” Now that is the kind of life we all want!

Beautiful words out of place.

But being redeemed presumes we need redeeming.

Frederich Buechner said, “The Gospel is bad news before it is Good News. It is a speaking of the truth of the way things are.”

Here is the truth: I need redeeming. I realized that one day when I was feeling pretty good about myself. I had been a pretty giving guy and was feeling, to be honest, that God was sort of lucky to have me on his team. Then I got this impression. Maybe it was from the Lord. Maybe I just have an over active conscience. Anyway, I realized that, on my best day, maybe I only have 4 thoughts or actions that are faithless or fearful or nasty…you know the things Episcopalians confess each week, “the things we have done, and the things we have left undone.” Anyway I happened to have that thought sitting at my desk. Unfortunately a calculator was within eyeshot. And I made the mistake of picking up that calculator and multiplying my really optimistic number (4) x the number of days in a year x the number of average years American men live. The resulting number was: 113,380. That’s right, I have a bare minimum of 113,380 sins.

The “bad news before we can get to good news” is that I am a far less admirable person than I care to believe. And God is far more forgiving than I can possibly imagine. Let’s just say that when it comes to sin, the data is not in our favor.

Fortunately, as Scholar Walter Bruggemann tells us, “All doxologies are against the data.”

So as we make this Advent turn, as “Our King and Savior now draws near,” let us look to Jesus, God’s Word out of place to us

St. Athanasius, the 4th century bishop, said Jesus, “has been manifested in a human body for this reason only, out of the love and goodness of His Father, for the salvation of us men.”

Why did our King and Savior draw near? Athanasius tells us it is, “out of the love and goodness of His Father, for the salvation of us.

Ten days from now we will celebrate the birthday of the one St. John called, “The Word made flesh:” God’s unexpected Word out of place. Consider the absurdity of it all…

-The king of the universe born in an outhouse for animals.

-God’s Son wandering and teaching and healing the  least, last and lost, not in the halls of power but in backwater Palestine. Some have euphemistically called Judea a “major thoroughfare of the Empire,” but if that’s so, most of Jesus’ ministry was the equivalent of  wandering I-10 between Eloy and Picacho. If Jesus came today we would politely offer to show him a map.

-He offered up his life on a cross for execution by professionals and called it “a ransom for many.”

-Yet death could not hold him and he walked out of the tomb.

-He disappeared into heaven in front of witnesses, sent his Spirit to dwell in the hearts of his own, and ever lives, talking behind our backs with the Father about how much they adore the likes of us.

-And He has entrusted us with his mission and awaits for us to finish the work of carrying the news of hope in Him to consummate His story.

Words out of place always sound absurd: God joining humanity so that humanity could join God-it just sounds…well, ridiculous.

Against all evidence. Where he is least expected. God has sent a Word, a Word that appears out of place, and that Word tells us, that no matter how it looks, It may be Friday, but Sunday’s a comin’.

So when our prayers tell us “Our King and Savior now draws near” and when our scriptures tell us that the Holy One of Israel is coming for us…

…with kindness and not condemnation, Well what else could we say but, “O Come, Let us adore him”?

You see, when the Scriptures call you and I “the redeemed” and “the ransomed” it isn’t talking about pennies for pop bottles. In Christ Jesus, God has saved us. And God has done so at His initiation and at His expense.

You see, when the Scriptures call you and I “the redeemed” and “the ransomed” it isn’t talking about pennies for pop bottles. In Christ Jesus, God has saved us. And God has done so at His initiation and at His expense.

Athanasius, in his brilliant, “On the Incarnation”, said it like this: “It was our sorry case that caused the Word to come down, our transgression that called out His love for us, so that He made haste to help us…It is we who were the cause of His taking human form, and for our salvation that, in His great love, He was born in a human body.

Do you know God’s great love? Have you allowed God in Christ to be Your King and Savior? Are you numbered among the redeemed?

If not, “it was,” in Athanasus’ words, “for our sorry case he came…out of his father’s great love.” Get on God’s Way. Come see us about beginning a relationship with God in Christ after the service. My encouragement: Do not leave here this morning without allowing one of us to help you onto, as Isaiah said, “the holy way for God’s people.”

And if you do know already God’s great love, let us, as the General Thanksgiving exhorts us, show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days.”

Our King and Savior now draws near. And all God’s people said, “O Come, let us adore him.” 

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