Who really likes waiting? But a big part of our faith is learning to wait on the Lord. Israel is used to waiting.
We can read stories in scripture that span years, decades or even centuries in just a few verses or a chapter. It’s easy to gloss over the time the events took: years, decades, even centuries can pass by rather quickly. Sometimes it is helpful to keep the timeline in mind.
The prophet Micah shared the word we heard this morning about 700 years before Jesus was born. It was a hard time, an awful time. There was no peace. You might have noticed that passage was chapter 5 verse 2 through 5a. The other half of verse 5 goes on to say, “when the Assyrians come…”
The Assyrians did come. They were one of the many empires that overran or threatened Israel across her history. They would be followed by the Babylonians, the Egyptians, the Babylonians again, the Persians, then the Macedonians under Alexander the Great. After Alexander died, his empire divided and Israel being a crossroads between Asia and Africa, his successors ebbed and flowed over the region for centuries. Except for a brief period after the Maccabean Revolt, Israel was under some form of foreign occupation all that time right up through the Roman Empire.
As today’s Gospel unfolds, they were still waiting, waiting over 700 years for a messiah to finally throw out the occupying armies once and for all and restore Israel as a light to the nations. That waiting was hard and it defined Israel as a people of God’s promises, however distant they may seem.
There is a distinct shift in this scene with Elizabeth and Mary. The waiting has become anticipation. Their anticipation is joyful; joy in what God is going to do, and it is imminent. They’ve heard about their children from the angel Gabriel. Now those promises are happening in their wombs – but on a much larger scale than anyone imagined.
They are brimming with the potential that new life brings, for every child changes the world for family and friends. But there is more, much more.
These children come with potency and expectation of the Glory of God to come. John hasn’t baptized anyone yet. He hasn’t preached to any crowds. Maybe John has gotten started preparing the way as he leaps in the womb, pointing his first person to Christ, but his ministry is still 30 years or so away.
The same is true for Mary. Jesus hasn’t come into the world yet. He hasn’t said anything profound. He hasn’t healed anyone. He hasn’t driven out any demons. He’s just there, an unborn child, already affecting key people around him. He’s recruiting!
None of their actual ministries have happened yet. But their mothers know it is coming and that anticipation fills them to overflowing with joy. It will come with pain. It will come with hardship. It will come in triumph. It will come in great humility. It will come with great sorrow. But the promises are real and the blessings unfold in that truth before it actually happens. All that Jesus means to the universe is on the verge in this moment.
Which brings us to our own moment. We know much more about the fulfillment of those promises. We know the wonder of Jesus’s earthly ministry by his words, actions and example. We know the terrible cost of salvation exacted in his death and the joy bursting forth forever at his Resurrection
And we know even today, the way things are isn’t yet how God intends his creation to be. We see remarkable progress in some ways and deeply disturbing decline in others. We find ourselves as the people of God waiting. Still waiting.
For many, these holidays emphasize their loneliness and grief. And while there are surely people on either end of that spectrum of relative peace and contentment to deep struggle and depression, I suspect most of us live with some combination. It’s good and it is hard. We’re cheered by the lights and we miss someone terribly. We are happy for the gatherings and festivities and we are in pain and we are tired. We love and follow Jesus and we are sinners in need of his mercy and grace and healing. We are waiting.
May our waiting be continuously enlivened by the anticipation of the potential our ever growing, ever new life of Jesus brings. He is calling us forward, he is calling us home and he gave everything to secure it for us.
Good Shepherd is a vibrant outpost of His life. The Holy Spirit is alive and moving through our lives and our church right now. We’ve got one day before Christmas Eve, say 30 hours until sundown tomorrow. But this isn’t limited to a day or season of the year. Do this anytime and all the time. Take time to pray and think about people in your orbit – be it your family, neighbors, church, friends, whoever – who may be for whatever reason on the hard side of Christmas. Whatever the reason, they are struggling.
Think and pray about what you can do as an agent of God’s grace to lift their eyes from their troubles to see the promise God fulfilled for the world in Jesus and spark the anticipation and hope that he brings, that the song might rise in their hearts:
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant…”
Let us pray.