Based on Isaiah 64:1-9, 1Corinthians 1:3-9, Mark 13:24-37
Even those saints gifted with seemingly endless patience have been stretched to their limits. They can be heard joining in with others saying, “It’s time for this to be over! I mean, really, can we be expected to go on like this forever? How long can this last? We’ve tried to be good and to do the things that we’ve been asked to do – but it’s really difficult to persevere and be patient – waiting with no end in sight!” Some even predict that this is the beginning of the end of times and that all that has been promised will come to pass. Sound familiar? Interestingly, these are NOT comments that have been made by folks who are wearied by living in a COVID-19 world, but rather by believers across millennia who were wondering when God would act to relieve the oppression of God’s people – or over the last 2000 years, wondering when Jesus would return. You see, believers of every age have spent their lives in disciplined, hopeful waiting – waiting for God’s time to be our time.
This is the crux of the difficulty of waiting on God…God’s time versus our time. God is eternal and operates in what theologians call Kairos time. Kairos is a biblical Greek word that is defined as a “right, critical or opportune moment”. It is usually placed as an alternative to Chronos time – which is time in which we normally operate. Chronos is measurable time like seconds, minutes, hours, days, years, etc. We usually know how many minutes it is until our next ZOOM meeting or class, how long until dinner is ready or how many hours to cook the Thanksgiving turkey. We do not know, however, when God will determine that it is time to do the next great thing in God’s plan for us and our world. Our faith leads us to trust that God will continue to do in our time what God has done in the past. Our faith tells us that God is steadfastly loving and faithful to God’s promises and that God has an ultimate plan for the fulfillment of all that God has done. Yet, our scriptures are calling to us again today, speaking words of hope and longing for the consummation of God’s great plan. Before we go further, let us go to God asking for the ability to be disciplined while we wait on the LORD…
The last eleven chapters of the Book of Isaiah are known as “Third Isaiah”. The original prophecies of Isaiah son of Amoz, are mostly contained in the first 39 chapters and reflects a time beginning around 730 BCE. This final section of the book was added much later – probably in the 500’s following the return of the exiles from Babylon. In our reading for today, the poet/writer is continuing a theme that began in verse seven of the previous chapter. The poet writes that the people of God have been waiting endlessly for God to come down as of old with Moses. A God that would be visible to Israel’s foes and who would make them tremble with fear. From verse four of Chapter 64 the poet tells of Israel’s God who is unlike any of the surrounding gods – a God who is responsive to those who have the discipline to wait for God to act.
Paul is writing his first letter to the believers in the port city of Corinth. Paul’s opening to this letter shows his great thankfulness that God through Jesus the Christ has enriched these believers. Paul notes that “…the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you – so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you await the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ….” Paul notes that the Christ will continue to strengthen their faith so that they can live blamelessly as they await the “day of our Lord Jesus Christ”.
We begin a new Gospel as we begin our liturgical year today. Our reading comes late in the Gospel according to Mark, right before the events of the final week of his earthly life. Just before our reading for today, Jesus has prophesied the destruction of the Temple, the coming persecutions of his believers and a time of suffering. Hard on the heels of those prophecies is our reading which tells of the second coming of the Christ. These verses admonish believers in every age to be disciplined, awake and alert as they wait for God’s promises to be fulfilled. Believers are told to be aware of false prophets and messiahs who will try to mislead them. The clues to the real coming of the Christ are contained in all that Jesus has taught. If they will wait and be disciplined in their study of his teachings and in the way they live, then they will not be caught off guard when he comes again in glory!
It is an understatement to say that many people find it challenging to be disciplined in their spiritual waiting. In our current time of “instant gratification”, having to wait for anything is considered the highest level of imposition and affront. The 24-hour news cycle and constantly updated social media feeds present us with endless opportunities to be led down rabbit holes of innuendo, hearsay and the promise of breakthrough information if we just stay glued to their channel. We find ourselves becoming mesmerized by the slight-of-hand of the talking heads who are speaking to our love of drama, dirty deeds and unraveling mysteries. We follow story lines for weeks, months, years, and yet there is no definitive end…only the unfulfilled “promise” of some new revelation yet to come. We pass our time being held in thrall by the possibility of closure, as the reality of our lives slip by us unnoticed and unattended, and our discipleship turns to dust from a lack of attention.
Into this space of distracted and undisciplined living the prophet Isaiah calls to us again – speaking words that we would speak if we only had the insight and courage. “…O that you would tear open the heavens and come down…”. Come again with fire and earthquake so that God would be impossible for us to ignore. Come in power and majesty so that we could be awakened from our dream-like trance and be able to focus on something meaningful and life-giving! Come again to wake us up to the fact that as baptized members of the Body of Christ we have at our disposal every spiritual gift as we await “the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ”. Come again to wake us up to identify the false Christs and false prophets that have led us astray as Jesus warned in the Gospel of Mark.
Disciplined waiting has always been difficult for us humans. It has been difficult to wait on God in a trusting and intentional manner because we have lost the sense of how God works. Numerous times in the Bible we are presented with the phrase, “In the fullness of time…”. This tells the reader that God will act when the Kairos time is right and not before. The Gospel of Mark reminds us again as we begin this Advent season of hopeful waiting, “…But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch; for you do not know when the time will come….” Disciplined waiting requires faith that the God of our ancestors who did great deeds on behalf of God’s chosen people will act again when the time is right.
The season of Advent is all about our willingness to be intentional about how we consider the place of God in our lives. Advent is about creating space for God to come again into our lives as a small child born to impoverished and enslaved parents in a forgotten portion of a great empire. Advent is about waiting expectantly in trust for God to act so that God’s plan for all of creation can come to fruition. Advent is about making space in our lives so that we can once again spend time with the Bible and its timeless truths which will help us to see the great arc of the movement of the Spirit doing the work of God. Advent is about disciplined waiting and searching for how God is at work in our world today through the promise of Emmanuel – God is with us. Thus, does our Advent – our season of disciplined waiting in trust and hope, begin. May our renewed discipline of watchful waiting be rewarded. Amen and amen!