Waiting is hard. It requires patience, of which I, personally, have very little. I googled the word wait, and the first definition that came up defined as “the action of staying where one is or delaying action until a particular time or until something else happens.” Interesting. Hmm... I didn’t feel good about this first definition so I scrolled down the page to look at what other online dictionaries had to say. It was actually rather interesting and kind of funny too. The first definition from Merriam-Webster was, “A hidden or concealed position - as used in the expression lie in wait.” This one made me laugh. Definitely not what I was looking for here. The second definition was better and more what I had in mind... “a state of attitude of watchfulness and expectancy.” That’s better. That is the kind of waiting that I think we are to be about during this season of Advent.
Well, after I typed that sentence, I, of course, had to look up the word Advent. The first definition that came up was “the arrival of a notable person, thing or event.” Then there were several definitions that spoke only of the Christian season of Advent but then The Free Dictionary defined the word advent as “The coming or arrival, especially of something extremely important.” And both of these definitions fit perfectly for what we are experiencing during this church season.
Waiting isn’t easy. I remember as a child waiting for Christmas. I didn’t think it would ever come! I was always so excited. When I was really little, I remember dying to open presents. It was so hard to wait. I remember begging to open at least one gift on Christmas Eve. Usually, there would be a gift under the tree from someone in the church and my parents would let us choose one of those. That’s my early memory of Christmas.
Then the later memories are of me sitting outside my parents bedroom door at 4 or 5 in the morning, begging them to get up so we could go see what Santa brought us! Actually, I have a similar memory from my adulthood. When my husband and I first got married, I’d wake up begging him to get up. I was always so excited only now it was because I couldn’t wait to give him his gifts! Eventually, after the kids were born, I would wake up and sneak out of our room and wake up the kids, (because my husband would say we had to wait till the kids got up) and tell them come in my room and ask to get up! I’m a bit of a Christmas morning fanatic and can be a bit devious. I’ve taught this to my daughter Susan too, but we love Christmas! So, waiting is hard, especially at Christmas, but for what are we really waiting?
Sometimes these days it seems we don’t have to wait long for Christmas. We are playing Christmas music earlier and earlier. Personally, I’m not complaining because I could listen to it all year long! People are putting up their trees and all their decorations earlier too. We start buying gifts early if we are smart, which I was not this year. So what are we really waiting for here?
About a year ago, I was trying to figure out what we were going do for Advent in our Sunday School class and I read an article about the season of Advent. It was talking about several different aspects of the season but as I was preparing this sermon, one aspect of the article really came to mind and it was the part about what we are waiting on, what we are expecting. As children when we learn about Advent, our Sunday School lessons all focus on the birth of Jesus. We hear about the Angel coming to Mary to tell her she is with child. We learn about Joseph and how he was going to quietly leave her until the angel explained things to him. Then there is the part about their being no room in the inn and their having to stay in the barn and Jesus being placed in the manger and shepherds coming after the angels appear to them and so on and so forth. So as children we think and learn we are supposed to be focused on the birth of Jesus. So I guess, since I went from being a kid in Sunday School to teaching children’s Sunday School this just kind of stuck with me and it is what we think of when we celebrate Christmas.
But really, as this article says, the season of Advent is a time for waiting, for expecting, not for the baby Jesus, that already happened, but it’s a time of anticipation of his reappearance! I's a time for us to "prepare the way of the Lord" while we wait. Well, it’s time for us to really focus on this, as we are supposed be living this way all the time.
So, what do we do while we wait? How do we prepare the way of the Lord? Now, it’s easy to get caught up in all the “Christmas” hype. On the one hand we have society, the secular world. They are pushing, rush, rush, rush, buy, buy, buy, spend, spend, spend! Go BIG! We have over the top decorating, over the top gifting. We have schedules that are pushing us constantly to do more, go here, go there, you have to try to fit it all in, the movies, the baking, the music, the shows, the parties, the services, the lights... there is so much it can make you dizzy just thinking about it!
Then you have the “Keep Christ In Christmas” group. I do think we need to focus on Christ during this season, but I think we should be doing that every day. And as I think about it, I often find myself wondering how Christ would feel about this movement. First, Christmas wasn’t a thing in Bible times. Second, is that phrase "Happy Holidays" that seems to make so many go up in arms, to get so upset. Is it really so bad to say “Happy Holidays?” I mean, I think it’s nice to wish everyone a happy holiday season. That phrase to me has always meant, Happy Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy New Year, and even Happy Thanksgiving! They are all so close in timing that in saying Happy Holidays, to me, just meant that I was wishing you happiness in all of them! It wasn’t taking Christ out of Christmas for me. I never thought of it that way because I still said Merry Christmas when I wanted too, still do! Honestly, I don’t know that I have really ever said, “Happy Holidays” or even had it said to me much. But as I scroll past post after post or email after email about keeping Christ in Christmas I have to wonder about this movement. I even read an article just the other day about how the term XMAS is really a Christian term! The X is Greek which is short for Christ and has been used for a 1000 years to mean Christ by Christian scholars. But too often some Christians are looking for ways that we are being hurt, looking for ways that people might be trying to take Christ out of things but we shouldn’t be looking for that! That is just looking for something to be angry about and that’s not good, healthy. Instead we need to remember that first of all, humans are not capable of taking Christ or God out of anything! That is limiting them and well, we know that they are limitless! If Jesus wants to be a part of something, he will be! When we get all up in arms over this stuff are we really being very Christlike? Is it really preparing the way for him? Sometimes people’s posts or rants are down right hateful. Now how can you be hateful and speak out for Christ at the same time? I think Jesus taught tolerance, respectfulness, love in all things. He told us to love our enemies and pray for them. Are we doing this when we keep making such a big deal about something that wasn’t even a thing when Christ was here on earth? Are we really preparing the way for him or are we mucking up the road a bit?
When I think of preparing the way for him, I think of showing his love. I think of kindness. I think of how in the Bible, Jesus was often surrounded by those who didn’t always seem worthy. He was with prostitutes, tax collectors, Samaritans, lepers, Gentiles. These were people that Jewish people didn’t usually associate with at least not in public. But Jesus showed them love and forgiveness. He cared for them, he healed them, he included them in his flock and through that, he changed them. Not by ridiculing them, not by cramming his beliefs in their faces but by loving them first. By loving them in such a way that they wanted to know more. That they wanted to be with him, to listen to him. They wanted to love him and be loved by him. He prepared the way for all that he taught just by showing love. Love that we can share.
When we are rushing to this program and that, or from store to store, or from service to service. When we are crazily decorating and baking, we have many opportunities to be preparing the way. We can show love and kindness. When you are in a crowded store and it’s loud and people are rude, you can offer an encouraging smile, you can help someone get something on a shelf out of their reach. When in traffic you can let someone in front of you. You can not yell when someone cuts you off but smile and say a silent prayer for God to bring peace to their hurried life. We can teach our children by example and that is a great way to prepare the way. Teaching our children to love. When we are baking and the kids make a mess, we can loving help them clean it up instead of fussing at them. We can make a little extra to share with neighbors and friends. We can make extra to take to a shut-in and spend a few minutes visiting with them, loving them. There are lots of lonely people during the holidays. Holidays aren’t always a happy time for everyone. Take time to remember that and make an effort to show love to them, to show understanding. There are so many ways, so many opportunities to do this everyday, not just during the holidays. We should be living this way all the time.
Remember the definition I read earlier for the word wait that made me laugh? “A hidden or concealed position...” That’s not the kind of waiting we are to do. We are not to hide, we shouldn’t conceal ourselves. We need to be active in our waiting, actively preparing the way through love while we wait.