“What are you waiting for?”
We often ask that question of somebody when we see no reason why they are hesitating to do what it seems obvious to us they should be doing. I often repeat those words, for instance, when I am impatient with the driver in front of me who is dilly-dallying after the light turns green. “What are you waiting for?” That question often serves as a challenge to another person.
We can also direct that question to ourselves as individuals: “What am I waiting for?” “I’ve signed a contract with Texas A&M. Why do I have to wait until after the game to let everybody know?”
This is also a question that we can ask ourselves as a married couple, or as a parish, a town, a country or even as an inhabitant of planet earth: “What are we waiting for?”
Our hesitation may indeed betray a lack of resolve in doing what we know we need to do, but it may also be prompting us to reflect more fully about potential undesirable and unintended consequences in the future of what may seem to be the obvious course of action for us in the present. A couple of deficit hawks in the Senate, for example, aren’t ready to pull the trigger on tax reform that will stimulate growth in the short term but may cripple us in the long run if subsequent tax revenues don’t counterbalance what will otherwise result in a significant additional burden of national debt.
The season of Advent reminds us that this question – “What are you waiting for?” – is one that God himself puts to us, as well as one we put to ourselves and to others. For four weeks each year, God asks, “What are you waiting for?” That’s a question that is very important for us to answer because what we wait for influences what we do in the meantime. Indeed, we dare not allow ourselves to be so caught up in the more immediate, but less important things that we feel we must do between now and Christmas, but fail to do the one that is necessary, namely, to answer God’s question, “What are we waiting for?” and to orient our lives accordingly. I agree with those who caution us that we should not go into debt to celebrate the gift of Christ to us by purchasing gifts we cannot afford, that we should resist the many enticing advertisements that urge us to act on the impulse they were designed to stimulate, “Go ahead. What are you waiting for? Buy it!”
There’s a clever quiz show on Saturday mornings on National Public Radio that’s called, “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” in which contestants are given a limited amount of time to answer questions about current events. Like Jeopardy or other quiz shows, listeners are drawn in by the satisfaction of coming up with the correct answers along with the contestants. If we happen to be wrong, or if we run out of time to come up with the right answer, we are disappointed.
Thankfully, God is much more patient with us in the much more consequential game of life. God is giving us four weeks, and not just five or ten seconds, to answer that most important of questions, “What are we waiting for?” He gives us all the time we need because he wants us to get the right answer and he doesn’t want to rob us of the opportunity of seeking and finding the answer to that question. He certainly does not want our time to run out or to have to tell us, in the end, that our answer was incorrect.
Just as the producers of “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me,” base their questions about current events on reliable news sources, so are we blessed with the Bible, which provides a comprehensive, multi-faceted answer to what it is that we should be waiting for because it is what is, in fact, waiting for us when all is said and done. Advent gives us the time we need to align what we may initially think we’re waiting for with what actually awaits us.
Paul gives us the basic answer in his first letter to the Corinthians: we’re waiting for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. Both Isaiah and Jesus go on to explain in our other lessons that the coming of the Son of Man in glory will have cosmic consequences. Christ won’t emerge in humility out of the womb of Mary like he did the first time he came. No. This time, because he will come in all his glory, the heavens will be torn open, the sun and the moon will be darkened, and the angels will gather the elect, both the living and the dead, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
Paul explains further in his letter to the Romans that creation itself is waiting for the coming of Christ. It’s as if this world is now a huge waiting room as a result of Jesus’ death and resurrection, where not only those of us who are in that room, who believe that there is a new heaven and a new earth on the other side of the waiting room door, but the waiting room itself is also waiting for the new heaven and the new earth on the other side of the door to be revealed as Christ bursts through it. The apostle Peter promises us in one of his letters that to the extent that we live in the hope of the One and the world that lies beyond that door, we hasten the day when Christ and his new world are revealed to us. While we wait, we are to strive to be at peace with God and with one another, agreeing with Isaiah that even our righteous deeds are like filthy rags and that it will only be by the grace of God that we will be found without spot or blemish when he returns.
That’s why, for me, in light of all the recent, tragic examples of sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse by those with earthly power, wealth and fame, in a world where some people are downright callous, others are morally careless, and where all of us must be careful in our relationships one with another, I am waiting for what the church calls the communion of saints, for that new earth and new heaven that was revealed by Christ to the apostle John in his vision of what lies on the other side of the waiting room door, that kingdom where people can, at last, be carefree in their love for God and one another, blessed with a mature, chaste innocence where it is no longer necessary to be careful, to worry about trespassing the personal and private space of others, because the grace and love of God has so pervaded and redeemed our own mortal bodies that they are transformed into a resurrection body that will embody us forever without the possibility of ever being careless or callous again.
The church is not immune to this sort of tragedy. The freedom that we have in Christ to begin to relate to God and to one another with genuine grace must not be confused with moral license, as it was in Corinth, where Paul had to correct those who thought that a man could live with his father’s wife. That is why those in positions of power and trust – pastors and staff, vestry, youth workers, nursery attendants - must be trained to be careful so that everyone can be safe and protected within the fellowship of the church. I believe that this is one of the ways the church can witness to the grace of God in its common life and attract others into that fellowship because of the quality of relationships we enjoy as brothers and sisters in Christ, adopted by God, our heavenly Father, and empowered by the Holy Spirit to begin to model the kind of gracious freedom with one another that Jesus modeled in his relationships with all sorts and conditions of men and women.
This communion of saints that is part of the multi-faceted answer to what it is we are waiting for is not an illusion or a vain hope. One day we shall welcome Christ’s return and the gathering of all his elect in one communion and fellowship, even as we live into that promise in our conduct with one another in the waiting room of this world, where the victims of sexual predators can already begin to be healed and where even the callous can begin to be restored by God’s grace and come to know the only communion and fellowship that will have a place in that place when all the waiting is over. AMEN.