What Are You Waiting For
Isaiah 2:1-5 Matthew 24:36-44
November 27, 2016 Alan Claassen
First Sunday of Advent
Do you remember that old Curtis Mayfield song
People get ready, there’s a train a comin’
Don’t need no ticket you just thank the Lord. You just get on board.
I remembered that old song while I was thinking about this first Sunday of Advent
and what it means to be waiting with a sense of expectation, waiting in one place and expecting to be carried to some other place, …what it means to be doing nothing really,
other than standing in a place of expectation and readiness.
Like waiting on a train platform for your train to come. You hear the train approaching and you the destination up in lights…
No, not that. I am not going to Tucson.
No, not that one, I am not going to despair.
No, not that one. I am not going to tolerate fascism.
Yes, that one. That’s my train.
The one that’s bound for glory for all human kind.
What does it mean to actively waiting, waiting with anticipation to move or be moved?
That reminded of a line from Will Rogers, that rope-twirling trickster from Oklahoma who said: “Even if you are on the right track, if you are not moving, you are going to get run over.” It isn’t enough to be waiting in the right place but sitting still.
And that reminded me of a story from former Supreme Court Justice,
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.
As Justice Holmes saw the train conductor approaching asking for passengers’ tickets,
he began to search his pockets for his own train ticket.
By the time the conductor got to his seat,
Justice Holmes he was quite flustered saying,
“I am sorry, Mr. Conductor, but I can’t seem to find my ticket.”
“Oh, Justice Holmes, that’s quite alright. I can trust you.”
To which Justice Holmes replied,” I appreciate your trust, Mr. Conductor, but you see the problem is, without that train ticket, I don’t know where I am going.
My destination is printed on the ticket.”
It isn’t enough to be moving, you need to know where you are going?
People get ready, there’s a train a’coming.
What are you waiting for? What train are you waiting for?
Where do you want to go? Are you ready to be moved to some place new, beyond your expectation but within your imagination and your need to hope?
On this first Sunday in the beautiful season of Advent,
the dream for a better way that we find in the Book of Isaiah
the end of the world scenario, like the one heard read from the Gospel of Mark
set the context for a world in need of a radical new beginning.
The Latin root of Advent is a word that means, “coming.” Advent means “toward the coming.” Advent is preparation for the coming of Jesus to the world—
then in the past; now in the present; and … later, in the future.”
(Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan The Last Christmas 231)
Advent is remembering the past, so we can reframe the present, so that we can re-imagine the future.
Advent is a reliving in the present of ancient Israel’s hope and yearning that is expressed in that favorite advent hymn.
“O come, O come, Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.”
We look at so many lives today and see humanity in a time of exile, captive, mourning, lonely, longing. And in our Scriptures, we remember that the great new insights into the nature of the divine-human connection were born out of that suffering and we wonder what is being born now in this time of so much suffering that gives us hope?
What are we looking for?
And so the first reading for the season of advent is an open-eyed and honest looking at how things are in our world, in the world today. Violence in our cities, escalation of war,
a loss of faith in government’s ability to govern, and a justifiable fear that many corporations are running this world, and they are running it into the ground.
In the Scripture readings that always begin the season of advent name those things that are broken in our world. They were broken for the Jewish people living in exile in Babylon. They were broken at the time that Jesus came into his world as a subject of the Roman Empire.
The Scriptures call for a radical shift that comes about from a desire for God to intervene in a world that has fallen apart. Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, in their book, The First Christmas, refer to this desire for intervention as the Great Divine Clean-up.
It is not that the world is coming to an end. It is time for the corrupt, greedy, and violent practices of merchants and governments to come to an end.
It is as if humanity has hit rock bottom and so has begun the first step of a twelve-step program in Alcoholics Anonymous. We are called to admit that we are powerless over the mess that we are in. And in that honesty the potential for a new force of energy and healing
is released, anticipated, prayed for, received.
In that honesty, is our source of hope. That hope becomes our source of gratitude, finding the support of companions, a re-dedication to our calling, and alignment with our deepest values.
As we read the Bible we see that this yearning for God to come into our lives and help us begin again, has always been a part of the human consciousness. It goes back a thousand years before the birth of Jesus and continues in the hearts of many today.
What are we waiting for? In that very question lies the conundrum of Advent; namely that we have the patience to let the new song of hope and peace arise from within us, and that we stop waiting and start singing and working to build the beloved community.
Maybe what we are waiting for is that most authentic heart within ourselves, the one that is willing to risk incarnating hope, peace, love, and joy.
And for us Advent, this time of hopeful waiting, begins today, immediately following Thanksgiving. The Great Gratitude.
As we enter into this time of waiting with expectation I would like to ask you to think about these words written by a friend of a friend of mine, Esther Armstrong.
“This year I am struggling.
This year I am troubled.
For I believe that this season of Advent is calling me into
that which feels absurd, impossible, and even dangerous.
I am not waiting for the baby Jesus,
though that would be a lot more comfortable and safer.
But baby Jesus has already been born.
He grew up, died, and is risen among us
I am not waiting for the Kin-dom of God to come,
though it would be easier if waiting was all that is asked of me.
But it isn’t.
The Kin-dom of God is waiting for me,
and I suspect for you,
to take on more fully the character of Jesus.
This means I will:
Voluntarily relinquish my need to control
and my sense of entitlement.
Let go and be delivered of
my insatiable appetite for more
and my need for security.
I will seek to
Shine a light in the darkness
Put my life on the line
for peace, for the heart of democracy
The kin-dom of God is waiting for me,
and all God’s people,
to be non-violent, forgiving, honest,
humble, compassionate, and loving.
God is waiting for us.
And so this Advent I will pray for courage to “live” Jesus,
while I hold onto the promises that God has come,
God will come again,
God will bring deliverance and justice,
and the world will be born anew through God’s people.”
And so we say to Will Rogers, we are on the right track and we are moving.
And we say to Oliver Wendell Holmes, we found our ticket and we know the destination and we sing along with Curtis Mayfield, we are ready to get on board.
Let us take the risk of incarnation. Let us take the risk of being born again this year
in a new understanding of who we are and where we are going. Let us wait with expectation and with patience. And then get on board. A train platform is not a place to stop; it is a place to get going, toward the coming of the promised One.
Let us live adventually.
What do we do while we are waiting?
Love one another.
And oh yes, sing. Sing, a lot!