The Blessing of WaitingAdvent
Advent is about waiting. Waiting is hard for most of us. What is the blessing of waiting? How do we make waiting purposeful?
The scriptures we read from Isaiah and Matthew were about waiting. In Isaiah people were waiting for resolution of the conflict that surrounded them, for the end of war. In Matthew, Jesus spoke to the disciples waiting for an uncertain future without Jesus’ physical presence among them. These scriptures are about the difficulty and anxiety of waiting. Both discuss what to do in our time of waiting.
The prophet Isaiah had been consulted by King Ahaz because the Israelites feared what would happen when war broke out with Assyria. The Israelites needed the assurance that God had not abandoned them.
As the Israelites looked at the temple on top of Mount Zion, knowing it would be destroyed by the Assyrians, they were worried. Instead of focusing on their fear, Isaiah prophesied of days of purpose and hope that were to come. “Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” They would come to the temple for instruction and guidance.
Isaiah’s prophecy is about forming a community and leaving conflict behind. “The nations that have previously been in conflict shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks, these nations shall not lift up their swords against one another, nor shall they learn war anymore.” Isaiah paints a future vision of what God would do for these people.
The challenge is looking toward a future that has not been realized. Isaiah closes his instruction by saying, “Let us walk in the light of the Lord.” The Hebrew word “walk” in this verse is the same word as “live.” Let us live in the light of the lord.
How do we endure our anxiety and uncertainty in the present to live in the light of the Lord?
That same concept is brought forward in Matthew 24 which follows a question asked earlier in Matthew. Jesus was asked by the disciples to tell them when the destruction of the temple and what those signs of his coming would be?
Behind that question, the disciples felt anxiety that history was dragging its feet and Jesus had not yet revealed himself in power. They believed and expected Jesus to bring in a new world order. None of that was happening and he was talking about his death.
The disciples force Jesus attention to his return and begin to want specifics about Jesus coming and the end of the age. Jesus is instructive saying, “but about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the son, but only the father.” He reminds them of the days of Noah when the world was destroyed. The people knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away.
How does this passage prepare us for the birth of Christ? These stories point to the fact that the world is living with anxiety about the future. The disciples were most afraid of Jesus going away, as he had predicted his death. When would he come again?
Jesus is, like Isaiah, pointing to a future yet to be imagined. Jesus did not want the disciples to be anxious about an unknown future.
When Jesus says “two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left” he is talking about normal life, day-to-day existence, and preparing people for what happens when our world is ruptured when our lives are thrown into disarray. It is not an opportunity to look with anxiety about what will be the nature of Jesus’ coming. Jesus is pointing to how his followers live in the moment, just like Isaiah pointed to how people lived in the moment.
Jesus ended the passage “you must be ready for the son of man is coming at an unexpected hour.” Being ready, and being alert means how we live in this present moment, in the face of anxiety, with an unknown future. What is the blessing of waiting?
What do we do in our waiting? I offer two choices: to live in the anxiety of the future or to choose the power of blessing.
What can I do in my private corner of the world that could have any effect in reducing the world’s anxiety? The usual answer is—nothing. We believe we are helpless. We hand over all our power to forces outside of us.
What is blessing? blessing is something within our capability, something we can do in this present moment. We invoke the power of blessing in our own lives and in the lives of others; that is what it means to live in the light of the Lord.
A blessing is a form of grace. John O’Donohue wrote that “grace is the permanent climate of divine kindness. The power of blessing recognizes a spiritual space between us and the divine.”
You may remember the blessings said around the table of your growing up. I couldn’t understand the words my dad said, but I do remember a sense of peacefulness that came to rest over a conflicted family. Blessing has the power to usher us toward the grace we need.
What do we do in this waiting? What would it look like to invoke the power of blessing in our lives? As hard as we try to live in the moment, we tend to slide off into what happened yesterday or what we have to do an hour from now. God cannot get to us through the layers of regret and expectation that we have swaddled ourselves in.
As I think of the future, I tell myself I will not always be this busy and unfocused. Any moment now I am going to have time to do things I meant to do.
Barbara Brown Taylor wonders how we are to live into Jesus’ instruction to be ready for God’s coming into the world. How do you deal with a piece of advice like that? “Refuse to live yesterday over and over again.
Resist the temptation to say your best self for tomorrow.
Go ahead and write the letter and make the call.
Find someone who needs a hand, a hug, and affirmation they are not alone.
Live so that wherever you are, standing in a field or grinding at the mill, or just going about the everyday business of your life, you are ready for God who never tires of coming into the world.” Isaiah said, “Let us live in the light of the Lord.” Jesus challenged, “Keep awake, be ready.” In other words, learn the power of blessing.