What Do We Do While We Wait?
For 48 hours we did not know what was happening. I was staying at the hospital overnight in the ICU waiting room each night so someone from the family would be there. I had finished my finals and my brother was in the middle of his law school finals. About midnight, I had visited my father before retiring to the waiting room to try to sleep. I woke at 6 am and called into the unit from the waiting room to check on Dad. The nurse said he had emerged from his coma around 2 am and when asked if he wanted her to wake me, he responded that she should let me sleep. That was the first time that I experienced waiting for the unknown. In some ways it prepared me for the waiting that we endured later during my father’s struggle with Alzheimer’s.
Advent is a season of waiting and watching. In Mark’s gospel reading Jesus is preparing his disciples for his own demise and for the coming of the Son of Man. They want to know when such things will occur and how they can be ready. He informs them that he doesn’t know; only God does. Then he tells them it is like a landowner going away on a long journey who gives his servants tasks to do while they wait and watch. We are still an impatient people. We have fast food restaurants. If we travel for work, we join airline mileage clubs so we can be among the first to board a flight and perhaps even get upgraded to better seats. We hurry between stop lights and have to wait for them to change. We pray to God for peace and patience and want it right now.
It is difficult to wait, especially for the unknown and unknowable. Will treatment work, when will we know the results of the tests, when will the next job come? While we wait, what are we to do? The question points to waiting being active and not passive. We are to be about the tasks that are consistent with the teachings of Jesus and with life. He says that we are to bear one another’s burdens, care for the poor and disenfranchised as if we are caring for him, we are to share communion as we do today, reminding ourselves of his love and sacrifice. At Community we live out our name by building a community of faith that does these things, from Crop Walks to no sock Sunday and stuffing socks with toiletries to give to the homeless. And we watch for new ways to support one another in times of need.
Today we lit the first candle of Advent, the candle of Peace. We heard Jesus’ words from John’s Gospel, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you, not as the world gives, let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. For the world, peace is most often simply an absence of conflict, and in our world we certainly would welcome an absence of conflict. But Jesus’ peace is different. It is a peace that issues from trust in God. The challenge becomes understanding what that looks like and embracing it
I struggle with this. Perhaps Jesus can model it for us. Remember that Jesus was teaching the multitudes out on the hillsides and it comes time to eat. All the disciples have is a lunch offered by a child, 5 pieces of bread and two sardines. Jesus blesses the food and the disciples feed 5000 with 12 baskets of food left over. Wow! Jesus and his disciples finish and need to get away from the crowd because they are exhausted. So they get in a boat to cross the Sea and Jesus lies down and goes to sleep. Well a storm comes up, the wind is howling, waves are crashing and Jesus keeps sleeping. Finally the disciples, fearing for their very lives, scream at Jesus, don’t you even care that we are about to die? Sometimes it seems like God is asleep at the wheel in our lives too.
Jesus, a little grumpy when awaken from a deep sleep, chastises the disciples and their lack of faith and trust. He calms the sea and the wind and goes back to sleep. Now think about this. They are in a boat propelled by wind in the sails, the back up to a wind less sea in those days were oars. Guess who gets to row? Jesus was able to sleep in the storm, not because he didn’t care, but because he trusted God. We can live in and rest in Christ’s peace while we are waiting and watching.
What else can we do while waiting for God to show up? Remember the words read earlier from Henri Nouwen’s The Wounded Healer.
“To announce, however, that the Liberator is sitting among the poor and that the wounds are signs of hope and that today is the day of liberation, is a step very few can take. But this is exactly the announcement of the wounded healer; The master is coming-- not tomorrow, but today, not next year, but this year, not after all our misery is passed, but in the middle of it, not in another place but right here where we are standing.” Nouwen demonstrates that Messiah is not coming but is already here. God’s presence is not something that comes after our struggles are over, but is with us right now in the moment.
What is it that disturbs us, frightens us, worries us, and concerns us? What weighs on us when we awaken in the night and are unable to sleep? I am fond of the idea of not crossing bridges until we have to do so. I don’t know if it was wisdom passed to me by my father or if grew from children’s books about bridges and trolls. Our bridges can be those things that trouble us in the night and generally are challenges we fear we may not be able to control, impact or overcome. There is much wisdom in not crossing these bridges unless we have to do so. Think about it. If we worry about that which we fear and then discover that there is no reason to fear, we have worried unnecessarily.
One of the lessons of Advent is that God is with us, God’s spirit is in us. God’s light fills us and we become the light of the world. We become Christ’s hands and feet, his arms to embrace a hurting world. When life brings us bridges we must cross, we can do so knowing that God never leaves us or forsakes us. God’s grace and support will sustain us. God is present on both sides of our bridges. Thanks be to God.