Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Quality of Waiting

28 November 2010/Advent 1 – Isaiah 2:1-5/ Romans 13:11-14 Matthew 24:36-44
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, St. Peter's at Ellicott Mills, Maryland

The Quality of Waiting

As a people, Americans are not used to waiting. As each year rolls by, we seem to get worse and worse at waiting. The urge to be first in line, first in the doors on Black Friday, to speed to get from point a to point b, to take short cuts, cut in line, use “redial” to be the “tenth” caller and win free tickets to another event we need to hurry-up and get to so we can get “good seats,” and on and on it goes.

We live in a culture that says, “We want it all and we want it now!” To disengage from this national spirit of “not-waiting” is to appear to be somehow Un-American, “not a team player,” or even “wimpy.”

This urge toward “not-waiting” ramped up to Warp Speed on Friday, aka Black Friday, and, I am told, will hit Intergalactic Nuclear proportions tomorrow, dubbed Black Monday by the On-line purveyors of all that we need and don’t need. We may as well face it, it is mostly the latter.

So along comes Advent. Well actually, it came along sometime near the end of the second century after the birth of the Christ-child, the one whose birthday somehow has become associated with this national urge not-to-wait.

For Advent calls us to a kind of waiting – waiting to celebrate that moment in time (or is time itself only a moment?) when God, the One who set all that we call creation and the universe, infinity and beyond, in motion suddenly appeared as a little baby, while at the same time waiting for God to appear again, anew, reclaiming or rebirthing this place we call - well, what do we call it? The world, earth, the universe, reality? Jesus most often calls it a kingdom.

As is often the case, our Gospel lesson begins in mid-story. Jesus is answering a question from his disciples. They are standing looking at the Temple, in Jerusalem, the place where it is said that God’s finger touches the earth to hold it in place – to stabilize it, to hold it steady, to keep it safe.

And Jesus, always seeming to need to stir things up, has pointed out to his friends that one day it will all be gone – not one stone will be left standing on another. Well, if you believe you are standing at the center of the universe, the center of all creation, the center of God’s kingdom, and you are told it will all be gone, you are surely going to ask, “So when, pray tell, might this happen?” Enter our text.

So now having stirred things up, this God who arrived one day as a baby now all grown up lets loose with another curve-ball: don’t know. No one knows. Not the angels, not me, only God knows. So just remember the time of Noah. It will be like that – when you are least expecting it, it will HAPPEN! And as in the time of Noah, when it happens, watch out.

Actually, the words he uses are “Keep awake.” Note how Paul, formerly known as Saul the persecutor of Christians on behalf of Rome, issues a similar alert some three or four decades later: “… you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to awake from sleep.”

Could this possibly be the Bible’s way of saying, “Wake up – the time is NOW!”?

So one quality of waiting has to do with staying awake – or, with waking up in the first place. The Bible seems to know that our vigilant state of not-waiting, which could be characterized as endless-doing, lulls us to sleep. As one professor of mine in seminary puts it, we are usually most always in a state of sleep-walking. That is, we are not awake to what is really happening around us – which Paul, and Jesus in his own inimitable fashion, is saying, “Wake up to the ways in which the Lord is at work even NOW!"

If we were awake we would know that. If we were awake we would know that those who keep apocalyptic calendars on the wall waiting for that day to arrive have somehow missed the essential words “no one knows.” If we were awake we would be those people who cultivate “an eternal preoccupation with the divine” (Paul Gordon-Chandler in his book, Songs in Waiting) such that we would see the ways in which God in Christ is already present and at work all around us!

As Jesus says to the Samaritan woman at the well, “The time is coming and now is!” It is now time for the vision in Isaiah to become a reality – that we turn our swords into ploughshares and pruning hooks – that the time for war is over and it is time for weapons of violence to be turned into instruments of nourishment – that it is time for all people, all kinds of people, from every corner of creation to come together to share in divine instruction – that it is time to walk out of darkness and “walk in the light of the Lord.”

Or, as Paul says, it is time to “live honorably in the day.” For it is this very moment as it was in the time of Noah, even now what all that we do and say is measured and judged in light of the Gospel that has been given to us by our Lord, Jesus Christ.

So how does one cultivate such an eternal preoccupation? How does one wake up? How does one see what is going on all around us – what some call “the real presence of Christ”? How do we cultivate a quality of waiting in the midst of a world demanding that we do anything but wait? In a world that says, "Want it all and want it now."

Two thoughts come to mind from the pen of Franz Kafka – yes, that Franz Kafka, who in addition to such tales as The Metamorphosis, The Trial, and In The Penal Colony, wrote a series of Aphorisms – reflections on life and how it is best to be lived.

The first has to do with how it is we view life. “The variety of views that one may have, say, of an apple: the view of a small boy who has to crane his neck for a glimpse of the apple on the table, and the view of the master of the house who picks up the apple and hands it to a guest.”

The second has to do with being still and really waiting. “It isn’t necessary to leave home. Sit at your desk and listen. Don’t even listen, just wait. Don’t wait, be still and alone. The whole world will offer itself to you to be unmasked, it can do no other, it will writhe before you in ecstasy.”

Advent is a time, four precious weeks, which invite us to look at the world from a different point of view, and to wait, be still and alone, allowing the whole world to offer itself to you, “unmasked.” God has no desire to hide anything from us. Those who wait upon the Lord already know this. Amen.