Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
Second Sunday in Advent
December 7, 2014
Last week we looked at the gift of anticipation. As followers of Christ, we anticipate a better world coming. Today, as we continue our review of the non-tangible gifts of Christmas, we will look at patience. The two go together: anticipation is what we long for and patience is our willingness to wait and not to settle for second best.
Of all peoples, God’s people should be patient. We have a history of honing this skill. Throughout scripture, we see our ancestors waiting a long time for their prayers to be answered and their desires to be fulfilled. Think about Abraham and Sarah growing old waiting on a child. Or the 400 years Israel was in slavery in Egypt and the decades she spent in Babylonian exile. And none of that compared to the centuries she awaited the promised one foretold by Isaiah. And none of that compares to the millenniums we’ve waited for Jesus’ return. Consider the story we heard earlier this morning, of Zachariah and Elizabeth. They waited so long for a son that they’d given up hope. Patience may be a virtue, as we’re taught, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Nor does it mean we wait idly on the sidelines.
Waiting isn’t wasting time; for it is through waiting that God transforms his people. Learning how to wait with anticipation can help us improve our lives. When we lack patience and act rashly, we often find ourselves in hot water. Think of words said rashly that offends others, or decisions made rashly that causes major problems down the road. Patience is good. Waiting is not all bad. My text for today’s message comes from Paul’s letter to the Romans. It’s short, just one verse: Romans 8:25:
There was once a spoiled and rotten child… Let me assure you that I am not talking about anyone’s child or grandchild who is here today, because none of them, I’m sure, are spoiled or rotten. But this boy was both. As Christmas approached he produced a letter to Santa with a wish list that rivaled a Russian novel. And he was expecting to receive it all. “Christmas is not the season of entitlement,” his mother said in a scolding tone. His parents, knowing they needed to nip his attitude in the bud, forced him to sit in front of the Nativity scene and told him to contemplate the meaning of Christmas and to write a letter to Jesus to wish him a happy birthday.
The boy stared intently at the manger, but he couldn’t get it out of his head that Christmas wasn’t just about him receiving gifts. So he began to compose a letter. “Dear Jesus,” he wrote, “If you bring me all that I want, I’ll be good for the year…” Then he thought about how hard that’d be and so he tore up the letter and tossed it in the waste basket and started over. “Dear Jesus, if you bring me all that I want, I’ll be good for a month. Again the thought about how hard that would be, to be good for a month, for 30 days. He crumbled the letter and dropped it in the waste basket and started again. “Dear Jesus, if you bring me all that I want, I’ll be good for a week.” Thinking further, he realized how futile his negotiation efforts were so he tossed that letter and resumed his contemplation of the Nativity.
Suddenly he spotted the figure of Mary, there in the back, behind the manger, a beautiful young woman wrapped in a “Carolina blue” shawl, her face shining as she gazes upon her newborn son. He snatched Mary out the Nativity, wrapped her in some tissue paper and hid her in the bottom drawer in his dresser. Then he went back to writing his letter. “Dear Jesus, if you ever want to see your mother again…”
Parents in particular know about waiting… It is not just the nine months of expectant waiting, sometimes it is years waiting for the miracle of pregnancy to occur. And sadly, sometimes it never happens. Certainly in our first reading, from Luke’s gospel, that’s what Elizabeth and Zachariah experienced. “This is never going to happen,” they thought. When the angel approached Zachariah, he didn’t believe and therefore found himself mute for the nine months Elizabeth carried their child. I am sure that Elizabeth got to decorate the nursery just the way she wanted with Zach unable to question or challenge her decisions.
Jerry, a friend of mine who is the Pastor of the Assembly of God Church in Cedar City, Utah, once told me about how excited he was to have one of the “named parts” in his church’s Christmas pageant. All his life he had wanted to have a major role in the story. He had tired of playing a sheep, or a cow, or stuck in the back of the multitude of angels (where he didn’t belong). Now, he finally thought he had really made it. Then, looking a little deeper into his character, he realized he been given a part with no lines to learn…
Poor Zechariah, after waiting for years for a child, he now waits 9 months in silence. There can be no bragging nor the expression of joy! He learns patience!
One of the problems with waiting, with our lack of patience, is fear. Because of fear what might happen, instead of waiting patiently, we try to flee, to hide, or force the situation. Henri Nouwen, in an advent devotion on this text, says this about the opening chapters of Luke:
It impresses me, therefore, that all the figures who appear on the first pages of Luke’s Gospel are waiting. Zachariah and Elizabeth are waiting. Mary is waiting. Simeon and Anna, who were there at the temple when Jesus was brought in, is waiting. The whole opening scene of the good news is filled with waiting people. And right at the beginning all those people in some way or another hear the worlds, “Do not be afraid. I have something good to say to you.” These words set the tone and the context. 
Our world encourages us to rush in and fix things right away. We don’t value waiting. When talking with a couple who are planning on marrying, I discuss with them the danger of trying tackle a conflict right away. The problem of solving conflicts when you are in the heat of battle is that you don’t think very clearly. Often, the battle during the height of a conflict is fought over something that’s not at all related to the real issue. Calling a cease fire and waiting, while cooling off, allows both parties to see things more clearly. We need to create space for us and for others to wait; we need patience; knowing that distance gives us better perspective and in that hopes God is working with us as we wait.
It is healthy for us to accept and understand that there are things in life we can’t control. We can’t control when God wants to act. Elizabeth and Zechariah had no control. We’re in the same boat. As Paul says, we are hoping for what we cannot see, but we wait with patience. We do this because we know that God is good! Things will work out in the end.
This Christmas, receive the gift of patience! We can’t force God’s timing, nor can we force another person to change according to our timetable. If we all took a deeper breath and as we worked to better the world, was a little more patience with ourselves and with others, we’d all be better off. But it’s hard.
You know, I am often frustrated at the pace the church moves. Years ago, I was asked about how it was to be a pastor and in charge of a congregation. I said I often felt as if I was the captain of a battleship and trying to steer from the bow with a canoe paddle. Change comes slowly and some people get upset with that (while others don’t want change at all). But if we look at scripture, we shouldn’t be surprised that change takes time. God seems to wait till the timing is right, and only then does the speed of change accelerate. For so long God had been quiet; there had been no prophets in Israel. And then, all of a sudden, God acts, Elizabeth becomes pregnant and then Mary, and the world is changed forever.
Larry Osborne, who writes about church work, discusses how we often seem concern with God’s will (which he admits is a worthwhile endeavor as God is not always clear and we have to discern it), but he goes on to say that just as important as it being God’s will, we have to make sure it’s God’s timing. God’s will has a “what and when” component. We can want things to go faster, but we must remember that its best if we go with God’s timing. Otherwise, we’ll make a mess of things. Patience is a gift that will allow us to prepare as we wait for God’s timing.
We live in a world where we expect instant gratification. But when it comes to our faith, such expectations may be unrealistic and even harmful. Having faith means we’re in God’s hands and are open to his timing. We don’t know when Jesus will return, but we should anticipate it and be ready. In the meantime, we come to the Communion table remembering Jesus’ atoning death and glorious resurrection as we long for his return. Communion is also a symbol of patience. We wait, we look for his coming, as we gather around this table, supporting, loving, helping and encouraging one another… That’s what our faith is about. Amen.
 Luke 1:5-24
 This is a quote from my friend, MaryMartha Melendy.
 Henri Nouwen “Waiting for God” in Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2001), 29.
 Larry Osborne, Sticky Teams (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 179.