I don’t know anyone who likes to wait. Some people have more patience for it than others, but I can’t think of anyone who actively enjoys waiting. We all have these agitated little habits we engage in when we’re forced to wait. Earlier this week, I was running behind getting our daughter Mari to school, and as I sat in a long line of cars in the construction on Dodge St., I anxiously fiddled with the radio dial, and craned my neck around the cars in front of us, as if I was physically trying to will the traffic to move faster. Or think of how you nervously check your phone when you’re waiting for a call, or keep checking the window when you’re waiting for guests to arrive. Most of us don’t patiently wait, we impatiently wait, and nervously try to bring about the thing we are waiting for.
Today is the first Sunday of Advent, which is a season that invites us to enter into a spiritual space of waiting. It’s a time when wait to celebrate Jesus birth in our lives again, and look forward to his final coming at the last day to set the whole world right. The waiting we’re called to do in Advent is the impatient, agitated kind of waiting that strives to bring about the thing we are waiting for.
In our gospel lesson, Jesus is speaking to his disciples about his triumphal return, and urging them to keep awake and be ready. I suspect that most of us have a hard time with these apocalyptic passages in the Bible. Rapture-happy televangelists, and the almost cartoonish depictions of the last things in popular books and movies that often paint a terrifying picture of what will happen to those “left behind” in order to scare us straight before it’s too late have soured these kinds of passages for us. Bumper stickers like “Jesus is coming. Look busy.” satirize passages like these and their interpretations in popular culture.
But actually, Jesus’ words weren’t meant to scare his disciples, they were meant to reassure them. Their lives were already hard, and uncertain, and scary. Their hope was that in Jesus, God was going to right injustices, was going to destroy suffering, was going to give peace and security instead of constant violence and threats of violence. So when Jesus reminds his disciples that he could return at any minute, he is telling them that new life, justice, hope, and peace could show up at any second.
That’s the kind of heightened awareness we’re called to during Advent. We’re called to remember that God’s life, and love, and peace, and healing could break into our lives at any minute. And we’re not just called to be good little boys and girls and sit around patiently waiting for it, but we’re called to wait impatiently, and agitate for that justice, and new life, and hope. We’re called to join the prophet Isaiah as he agitates for God saying, “Oh that you would tear open the heavens and come down. . .” Craning your neck around the car in front of you to try to move traffic is ridiculous and futile, but it’s exactly the kind of spiritual waiting Jesus calls us to.
That’s why we’re called as Christians to care deeply about what’s happening in Ferguson. It’s why we’re called to listen deeply to the protesters there. Whatever may or may not have happened when Michael Brown was shot, we’re called to listen to their frustration and their anger at the racial divisions and prejudice that are still very real in America. And rather than simply dismiss Ferguson as an unfortunate and isolated case, we’re called to consider how racial, and class, and all forms difference and prejudice play out in our own city, and to agitate for hardened and prejudiced hearts and minds to be changed. That people are divided and set against each other because of how they look, or the language they speak, or where they live is one of the things Christ’s kingdom will set right, and one of the things we’re called to agitate as we impatiently wait now. “Oh, that you would tear open the heavens and come down.”
Our impatient waiting also involves feeding the hungry, caring for the abused, visiting the sick, becoming agents of healing and forgiveness in our offices, in our schools, in our homes.
That’s why grumpy priests like me want to keep us from jumping too quickly into calling this the “Christmas season,” because our lives and our world can be changed when we spend a little time digging into what it means to be waiting for God to come in God’s full power; digging into what it means to be impatiently agitating for justice and mercy in a world where those things continue to be in such short supply.
Over these next weeks, we’re called to wait, but we aren’t called to be patient. How can you become an agitator in your own life? In the words of the famous prayer in our prayer book attributed to St. Francis, we wait by praying to be instruments, agitators, of God’s peace: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.” Pray that you might help to make it so, while you await the full coming of the Savior. Amen.