Rev. Mark Schaefer
Kay Spiritual Life Center, American University
December 16, 2012—Advent III
Zephaniah 3: 14-20; Luke 1:26-38
Zephaniah 3:14–20 • Rejoice, Daughter Zion! Shout, Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem. The LORD has removed your judgment; he has turned away your enemy. The LORD, the king of Israel, is in your midst; you will no longer fear evil. On that day, it will be said to Jerusalem: Don’t fear, Zion. Don’t let your hands fall. The LORD your God is in your midst— a warrior bringing victory. He will create calm with his love; he will rejoice over you with singing.
I will remove from you those worried about the appointed feasts. They have been a burden for her, a reproach. Watch what I am about to do to all your oppressors at that time. I will deliver the lame; I will gather the outcast. I will change their shame into praise and fame throughout the earth. At that time, I will bring all of you back, at the time when I gather you. I will give you fame and praise among all the neighboring peoples when I restore your possessions and you can see them—says the LORD.
Luke 1:26–38 • When Elizabeth was six months pregnant, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a city in Galilee, to a virgin who was engaged to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David’s house. The virgin’s name was Mary. When the angel came to her, he said, “Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you!” She was confused by these words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Mary. God is honoring you. Look! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father. He will rule over Jacob’s house forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom.”
Then Mary said to the angel, “How will this happen since I haven’t had sexual relations with a man?”
The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come over you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the one who is to be born will be holy. He will be called God’s Son. Look, even in her old age, your relative Elizabeth has conceived a son. This woman who was labeled ‘unable to conceive’ is now six months pregnant. Nothing is impossible for God.”
Then Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.” Then the angel left her.
So here we are on the third Sunday in Advent. Advent: a season of preparation and waiting.
But, you know what? I’m sick of waiting. Enough already, God.
We gather every year at this same time, sing the same songs, read the same words, and have the same expectations in our hearts: hope for the coming of Christ and the redemption of the whole world. Every year.
But after a while, you get tired of waiting. You know, the expectation for the messiah began with the preaching of the prophet Isaiah in the 8th Century BC reflecting on the deficient state of the Judahite monarchy, wrote that one day a shoot would come forth from the stump of Jesse, a righteous branch. In the Babylonian Exile, this hope was refined, and in the first century, there was full blown expectation for just such a deliverer. So, basically, we’re talking about 700 years or so waiting for a messiah. And then nearly 2,000 years waiting for him to come back. What’s taking so long?
I’m tired of waiting.
I’m tired of waiting in a world where school children can be shot to death in school by gun-wielding maniacs. I’m tired of waiting in a world where millions live under a brutal military occupation. I’m tired of waiting in a world where people are discriminated against because of the amount of melanin they have in their skin. I’m tired of waiting in a world where people are denied the right to make a home and share in a life together because of who they happen to love. I’m tired of waiting in a world where so many go hungry while so many accumulate needless possessions. I’m tired of waiting in a world where women are in constant peril for their safety and then blamed for not taking enough precautions when their safety is violently taken from them. I’m tired of waiting in a world where thousands upon thousands of lives are lost in the scourge of wars that make us neither safer nor freer. I’m tired of waiting in a world where those entrusted with power for the good of the people use that power to serve the mighty rather than the least of these. I’m tired of waiting for the liberation of the oppressed and the binding up of the broken-hearted.
I’m tired of waiting.
Do things have to reach some pre-ordained level of crappiness before everything gets fixed? Because I feel like we’ve been there for a while.
I know I’m not alone in this; there have been doomsday predictions coming in steadily for the past several years. People must have the same sense that we’re bottoming out.
I don’t know about you; but I’m tired of waiting.
II. WAITING FOR THE GALACTIC BUS
A few years ago I read a highly irreverent satire called Waiting for the Galactic Bus. The book is the story of two brothers from an immortal race who, as a prank, are ditched on the planet Earth by their friends without a ride. Bored, they start tinkering with some of the native species… including some of the apes and help one of the species evolve.
Eventually, civilization arises and the brothers intervene from time to time as needed. In addition, each of them presides over a “post-life energy pool” where the life energies of the dead go after they die: one over the north pole (Topside), one over the south (Below stairs). They’re not quite heaven and hell, since the brothers neither reward nor punish, though they have their own distinct cultures.
But among the many residents of Topside is a Galilean preacher named Yeshua. He largely goes unnoticed because he never looks like what people are expecting to find—too much like a Pakistani cab driver—and not at all like the Jesus of the church’s popular imagination.
At one point in the story, Yeshua is asked about his life and what he’d hoped to accomplish and what he thought now that he’d arrived in the afterlife only to find it to be two mental constructs run by two alien beings. What do you do, he was asked, having expected one thing and come here and found another? His reply: “I wait.”
That struck me when I read it. The whole book and its sequel are highly irreverant and poke fun at religion, which is identified as one of the side-effects of elevating a species to sentience before it’s ready. But here, in this little moment, when giving Jesus the chance to say something amidst all the craziness, the author places in his mouth some of the most profound words of faith: “I wait.”
They could have made Yeshua a cynic; a disappointed believer who gave his life for a cause that never materialized. Who died on a cross only to find that the Kingdom of God did not come and that the whole system he had expected to come into being was not there. And yet, perhaps perceiving something about Jesus that only an outsider truly can, the author recognized him as a man of deep and abiding faith. We talk a lot about having faith in Jesus but don’t talk often enough about the faith of Jesus, and we know that Jesus was a man of extraordinary faith. And so, his answer could only be one of a profound statement of faith: I wait.
And so, we behold a broken world. A very broken world; at times more broken than we can bear.
So what do we do?
Now waiting is not necessarily a passive thing. Waiting as Christians is not simply like waiting for a bus, sitting around doing nothing.
We wait by acting on our expectations. What is it we wait for? What we wait for defines what we do. If we are waiting for a kingdom of justice, then as we wait we live lives of justice. If we are waiting for a kingdom of perfect peace, then as we wait we live lives of peace. If we are waiting for a kingdom of perfect community and fellowship with one another, then as we wait, we build those communities of love and fellowship here.
Now, this is not ours to do alone. This is not a sermon where I turn this around and say that we no longer have to wait for God do to these things and we can just do them ourselves. I am not going to say that: my opinion of human beings is not high enough this week to argue that. I am much more in line with St. Augustine’s thinking about our wretchedness. Only God can bring about the consummation of all our hopes. But by living out our expectations in our lives, we can testify powerfully and meaningfully to what it is that we wait for.
And so, in the midst of all the brokenness of our world—and there is much brokenness that we know—we make a powerful statement of faith.