Sunday’s sermon: The Perfect Time … to Wait

perfect christmas tree

Texts used – Isaiah 11:1-9; Luke 1:68-79

  • Friends, we find ourselves once again (a little belatedly this year) in the season of Advent.
    • To borrow from one of those tried-and-true Christmas songs, “it’s the most wonderful time of the year”
      • Time to wait and watch
      • Time to wonder and ponder
      • Time to listen for the rustle of angels wings and the whisperings of the Holy Spirit on the night wind
      • Time when hope and faith and joy and love shine a little brighter in our hearts and our lives as we await the coming of Love Incarnate, God With Us – the Christ child
    • Advent is a season of waiting … something that we’re not always so good at as a society. In this day and age, we have the world at our fingertips. Nearly instantaneously, we have the ability to answer to any question, to hear any song (and find the lyrics if we want to sing along), to purchase whatever our heart may desire, to see and speak with someone halfway around the world in real time, to check news and weather and stock market figures and anything else wherever and whenever we happen to be. We can do all this through a simple tap on our phones or tablets or computer screens. We don’t often have to wait for much, do we? And yet here we are in this church season dedicated to waiting.
      • Waiting to once again celebrate the birth of Christ
      • But also waiting for Christ to come again – Jesus’ own words in Mt: Then the sign of the Human One will appear in the sky. At that time all the tribes of the earth will be full of sadness, and they will see the Human One coming in the heavenly clouds with power and great splendor.[1] → makes our waiting an active waiting – This is not a passive, biding-our-time, counting-the-seconds-as-they-slowly-tick-by kind of waiting.
        • Waiting with purpose
        • Waiting with preparation – preparing our hearts and our lives for God’s in-breaking
          • Into this world
          • Into our worlds (world of our day-to-day lives)
          • Into our inner worlds (heart, mind, soul)
  • Now, a few years ago, we walked through Advent – through this season of waiting – using a story: The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski[2]. Each Sunday, we read a little bit of the story and tied it in with Scripture as we moved closer and closer to Christmas and the coming of the Christ child. And ever since that series, people have been asking me to do another one. Well …………………… you’ve got your wish! → Advent sermon series this year: The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree by Gloria Houston[3]
    • READ THROUGH P. 13
  • One of the reasons that I love this story so much for this time of year is because it’s such a waiting, preparing kind of a story.
    • Begins with Ruthie and Papa preparing for Christmas all the way back in the spring when they go to choose the Christmas tree → speaks to the different ways we all prepare
      • Each year, a different family was given the honor of providing the Christmas tree for the village church, and each year, different families brought different kinds of trees – trees that expressed who they were and where they came from
        • Each required a different kind of waiting and cultivating for that tree to be ready
        • Each required a different kind of harvesting and carrying to get that tree from the place where it had grown all the way to the village church
        • But despite those differences, each tree brought beauty and joy to the church as the Christmas tree. Each tree brought honor and pride to the family that provided it. And each tree brought its own story … just like we all bring our own differences and expectations and traditions to our waiting.
    • Also love this story because it speaks to the hard part of waiting – the uncertainty, the struggle, the absence → Ruthie and Mama waiting for Papa to come home from the Great War = not an easy kind of waiting
      • With no husband/father at home to provide an income, they are waiting in want and in need – book: That year the timber was not cut. So Mama had no money to buy coffee, sugar, or cloth for new dresses.[4] → Ruthie and Mama try their hardest not to feel that need quite so strongly, but that doesn’t mean the challenge isn’t there: “Mama, Mama,” said Ruthie, as she ran up the front steps that day. “I must have a new dress with great big sleeves. I am going to be the heavenly angel when Papa gives the Christmas tree.” “Oh, my pretty young’un,” said Mama. “I have no cloth to make a dress with great big sleeves. And I have no money until your papa comes home.”[5]
      • Even harder = waiting for Papa’s safe return, especially when they see all the other village men returning home on the train … but no Papa
        • Expectation has been raised by Papa’s own words: “I’ll be home for Christmas,” the letter said. “The war is finally over. The Armistice was signed today!”[6] → And yet, as all the other men get off the train and rush to their loved ones, Ruthie and Mama are left watching and waiting, wondering and unsure with empty arms … and that is a hard, painful kind of waiting indeed.
  • Scripture readings this morning speak to waiting – time of anticipation and preparation that the people of Israel endured as they waited for God to send them a Savior → sort of end up book-ending the waiting
    • Passage from Is = prophecy during the waiting → speaks of the glory and joy and power of the one to come – text: A shoot will grow up from the stump of Jesse; a branch will sprout from his roots. The Lord’s spirit will rest upon him, a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of planning and strength, a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord.[7]
      • Scholar: According to Isaiah, the transformation from a culture of fear to a world of peace begins with a stump. Out of something that appears finished, lifeless, left behind, comes the sign of new life – a green sprig. This is how hope gets its start – it emerges as a tiny tendril in an unexpected place.[8]
      • Paints quite the beautiful picture of what will come about once this Savior has come – predators lying down in peace and harmony with their prey, children playing safely in the vicinity of deadly creatures, an absence of war and destruction  not so different from the promise that Ruthie and Mama received from Papa in his letter: peace, harmony, being reunited in love … But in Scripture, as in the story, that time has not yet come. And so they waited.
    • Passage from Lk = another prophecy
      • Part of the story of the birth of John the Baptist
        • Recap: John’s birth was foretold to his father, Zechariah, just as Jesus’ birth was foretold to Mary → But when the angel visited Zechariah to tell him his wife, Elizabeth, was going to have a son, Zechariah laughed and didn’t believe the angel. So the angel took away Zechariah’s speech until the baby was born and Zechariah fulfilled the angel’s declaration by naming the baby John. – Scripture (just prior to what we read today): On the eighth day, it came time to circumcise the child. They wanted to name him Zechariah because that was his father’s name. But his mother replied, “No, his name will be John.” They said to her, “None of your relatives have that name.” Then they began gesturing to his father to see what he wanted to call him. After asking for a tablet, he surprised everyone by writing, “His name is John.” At that moment, Zechariah was able to speak again, and he began praising God.[9]
      • Today’s passage = that praise – praise after a great, long waiting – text: Bless the Lord God of Israel because he has come to help and has delivered his people. He has raised up a mighty savior for us I his servant David’s house, just as he said through the mouths of his holy prophets long ago. He has brought us salvation from our enemies and from the powers of all those who hate us.[10]
        • References the Is prophecy that we read → references that long time of waiting and hoping
        • Expresses abundant joy and satisfaction in that waiting – in the purpose and intentionality of that waiting – but also in the end of that waiting
        • Scholar: The Benedictus, Zechariah’s great hymn of prophecy, praise, and blessing clearly moves us toward that unfathomable, whole, creation-healing shalom of God. Here we find ourselves waiting and watching for something that we deeply desire, wondering if it will ever come.[11] → Friends, this is why we wait. Even though it’s hard. Even though it’s sometimes uncertain and uncomfortable. The waiting, the watching, the wondering and pondering … this is, as they like to say, the reason for the season. Waiting for hope. Waiting for love. Waiting for peace that passes all understanding. Waiting for the Christ that was and is and is to So come and wait with me, for now is the perfect time. Amen.

[1] Mt 24:30.

[2] Susan Wojciechowski. The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey. (New York, NY: Candlewick Press), XX.

[3] Gloria Houston. The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree. (New York, NY: Dial Books for Young Readers), 1988.

[4] Houston, 9.

[5] Houston, 13.

[6] Houston, 10.

[7] Is 11:1-2 (emphasis added).

[8] Stacey Simpson Duke. “Second Sunday of Advent – Isaiah 11:1-10, Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 1. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 28.

[9] Lk 1:59-64.

[10] Lk 1:68-71 (emphasis added).

[11] Randle R. Mixon. “Second Sunday of Advent – Luke 1:68-79, Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, vol. 1. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 33.

2 responses to “Sunday’s sermon: The Perfect Time … to Wait

  1. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: Blessed to be a Blessing | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

  2. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: Gifts from the Heart | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

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