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Waiting with Hope

Judy Skaggs

November 28, 2010
Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 23:36-44

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There is a Dr. Seuss book called Oh, the Places You’ll Go! that makes reference to a waiting place. Here is what it says:

The Waiting Place…for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come, or a plane to go or the mail to come,
or the rain to go or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or No….

Advent is like the waiting place. I don’t mean just the fact that during these four weeks, we wait for Christmas morning to dawn with the promise of many surprises for the children, and time with family and friends or even with a bit of dread because of our high expectations that often go unmet. And during this waiting time, we run as fast as possible to get everything done so that our Christmas will be just perfect.

No, I think what we are discovering is that Advent waiting has to do with getting quiet within, with slowing down rather than tearing around like crazy. In fact in many ways, Advent, at its best, is very counter-cultural. We look around outside, and there is lots of glitz and noise, silver bells and shoppers rushing home with their treasures. But inside, it is the darkest time of the year, and here in the church the color of the season is purple – the same as it is during the reflective season of Lent.  We began our service with silence and hymns in minor keys.

We become aware of the contrasts, and we are invited into this time of reflection on what it means to be in the waiting place of Advent.

I remember in Hebrew class when we looked at the different meanings of the Hebrew word for wait – it was when we translated that wonderful verse from Isaiah 40 that is so beloved. “Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings as eagles. They shall run and not be weary. They shall walk and not faint.” 

One meaning of the word “wait” is to crouch as an animal would, waiting to pounce upon their prey. So I began to think about waiting differently. Waiting is never just passive, but when you picture that lion or leopard waiting to pounce, you see that every part of the animal is involved, expectant, alert and ready for action.

Another of the definitions was “to be intertwined as a rope.” When you think about a piece of rope, you cannot tell one strand from the other, because they are all so closely bound together. Again, I learned more about what it means to wait upon the Lord – to be bound together very closely with God.

So when we reflect on what our Advent waiting could look like, using those definitions, we find that waiting is active, that every part of our being is alive and alert to God’s presence in the world. All the scriptures for today have an element of being ready and alert. But our waiting is also to bind us more closely to God.

That seems to be the message of the Prophet Isaiah in our passage this morning. So many of the stories of the Israelites are about them waiting.  Now they wait again, not knowing what will happen. The Northern Kingdom has already been taken captive.  The Arameans are trying to get the Southern Kingdom of Judah to make a very unwise alliance with them against the Assyrians. Their king is very ambivalent.

So the prophet offers a vision of promise to give the people hope in a very fearful time. Perhaps Isaiah speaks to our time too. He takes us to a waiting place that we truly long for, where God’s presence is more evident and more compelling. A place where all nations will come and will long to know and follow God’s ways.  A place where all people will long for instruction and a word from God. A place of peace and no more war, where instruments of war have been converted into tools that can help feed people who are hungry.

We might ask – was Isaiah just a fool or an idealist? We all might yearn for the time and place that he describes where weapons are destroyed, hearts are transformed and all peoples drawn together, but it is hard to believe that day will ever actually come, isn’t it?

The reality for us is that it is a lot easier to just give in to the culture and put our hopes in Christmas gifts and holiday feasts than it is to open ourselves up to the possibility of believing in Isaiah’s vision. We look around at fractured relationships between nations and churches and individuals. We have been disappointed and disillusioned.

And yet, we are confronted with the invitation offered, “Let us walk in the light of the Lord!”  However hard it is to hope for that day when that vision will be the new reality, there is great power in walking in God’s light NOW, one step at a time. And in God’s light we have hope that darkness can be overcome. In God’s light we are given light to see the world differently, even in the startling way Isaiah visioned.

I read recently that every Bible story is ultimately about hope. That statement is worth some pondering!

Eugene Peterson writes that it is essential to distinguish between hoping and wishing. They are not the same thing. He says that wishing is something all of us do. It projects what we want or think we need into the future. But hope desires what God is going to do – even though we don’t yet know what that is. Hope means being surprised, because we don’t know what is best for us or how our lives are going to be completed. To cultivate hope is to live in anticipation of what God is going to do next.

When we think of hope in that way, it may indeed be true that every Bible story is about hope – about God’s surprises, and about watching and waiting for God’s action in the world.

So here we stand in this hopeful waiting place. We wait with expectancy for the fulfillment of God’s kingdom even though we don’t know exactly what that will look like. And in the mean time, we are invited to walk into the light of God – and to walk with hope toward God’s new reality where all of creation is healed, mended, reconciled, at peace. May it be so. Amen.