Scripture: Isaiah 2:1-5 and Romans 13:11-14

I would like for each of you to take a moment and think about something that you have anticipated; something that you really wanted, and for which you had to wait. How long did you wait? What was it like to wait? When what you were waiting for finally came, was it what you expected? Was it everything you hoped for, or did the reality of it pale in comparison to what you thought it was going to be like? Was it all joy, or was there some disappointment, fear, or heartbreak involved?

The biggest thing that Mark and I have anticipated lately was the birth of our grandchild. We had almost 9 months to get ready for the big event, and I was surprised at the different stages I went through. I had thought that I would just be over the top with excitement about a baby on the way, but instead I found myself thoughtful and a little worried, as well as excited. What if something went wrong? We were all doing well without this child in our life, and now we would have one more person to love fiercely and worry about intensely. The fear was intensified when our son-in-law’s brother and his wife had a baby 6 months before our grandchild was due, and that baby has a severe disorder that shortens his expected lifespan, and limits some of the hopes and dreams that all parents have for their newborn child. He is well loved, and his short life has been punctuated with all kinds of emergency medical procedures, and instead of the complete joy that new parents fantasize a baby will bring, there has been a lot of fear and anxiety. It’s likely that the rest of his life will be that way. It is amazing though, how much joy there is in spite of all that.

It also occurred to me that the child we were waiting for would be one that I would have very special feelings about, but also very little control over what happened to her. The world can be a scary place. I wouldn’t always be able to protect her, especially now that she lives on the other side of the country. That was scary too.

But then hope and optimism took over, and I got more excited about the prospect of welcoming this little one and watching her grow. We knew she was due in mid-April and suddenly our life took on a curious kind of suspended animation. Sometimes babies come early. Sometimes they come late. We were reluctant to plan anything of any importance anywhere near that span of one month when she was most likely to be born. But you can’t put your life completely on hold while you wait for the birth of a baby. You have to keep working. You have to keep doing the things you do in your daily living. You have to have things to do while you wait.

And then finally, after all that waiting, the big day came, and we got the phone call, and we jumped in the car for the 5 hour plus drive to Torrance. It seemed to take forever, and we were worried about missing the whole thing, and then when we arrived we discovered things were really in the very early stages, and we waited and waited and waited some more. Time is a funny thing. It feels like it can speed up and slow down in the most aggravating ways. But finally Avery arrived, and life took on a new character. We were grandparents, with a new role to fulfill and a new kind of love in our lives.

There are all kinds of hopes and dreams that we have for Avery. We want to see her grow up and go to college and fall in love, and maybe have children of her own. Maybe some of the hopes and dreams won’t come true. Children can break your heart. And so we find ourselves waiting again, to see how this is all going to turn out. And we know that we may or may not live to see all of that happen. But we have to start living as if it will. Yesterday I received an advertisement in the mail about starting a college account for her. How do the advertisers know all of these things about us? College for her seems so far away, but you do have to plan for it or it makes it harder to happen. It will be wise for her parents, and maybe her grandparents, to start one of those accounts now. We live into the hopes and the dreams that we have, and some of those hopes and dreams are important to us, even if we might not be here to see them fulfilled. We do them for others.

Today is the first Sunday in Advent. Advent is a time of anticipation. It is a time of waiting. We are waiting to celebrate once again the birth of a very special baby, the Christ child, which took place some 2,000 years ago, but which we celebrate again each year, and we are waiting for that promised time when God’s will, will be fully in effect “on earth as it is in heaven” and the world will be at peace.

Isaiah saw that day coming. Isaiah proclaimed it some 600 years before Christ’s birth. He talks about that day when God will be worshipped by many people who will come from all nations. They will learn God’s ways and walk in God’s paths and they will “beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks” turning instruments of war into tools for nourishing the world. “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” It’s a beautiful vision, and Isaiah instructs the people to begin living it now when he says “O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” He wants them to do it now, even though they are far from the vision. In fact, almost all of chapter 1 is Isaiah’s vision of how God is viewing the people and their way of living at that time, and it isn’t a pretty picture at all. And the part of chapter two that comes after what we just read is pretty awful too. The people are not living God’s way. Not at all.

But Isaiah see’s God’s vision. He doesn’t just hear God’s voice. Our scripture says “This is what Isaiah son of Amoz SAW concerning Judah and Jerusalem.” And what he saw was a vision of peace. Just like waiting for a baby to be born and a child to grow up, and knowing that there can be all kinds of bumps and pitfalls along the way, many parents have a vision of what they hope for in their child’s life, and much of the time parents try to conform their own lives to that vision, doing the things they hope will be most likely to bring their vision about. The mother avoids things she knows can harm her child during the pregnancy. They start that college account. They buy books the child can’t yet read, but will grow into. They read those books to the baby in hopes that the child will one day learn to read them herself. Isaiah says that even though the people to whom he spoke were not living God’s way at all, they could start right then to walk in the light of the Lord, and work toward the vision of peace. And the truth was, many of them would not live to see that vision fulfilled. It was over 600 years till the birth of Jesus, and we are still waiting, in spite of his birth, to see the vision really fulfilled. But they could start living into it then, and it’s a good thing for us that they did.

The apostle Paul wrote after the birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And he thought that Jesus would return in the near future. But he too encouraged the people to be ready for the day of salvation by starting to live it now. He tells them that “now is the moment” for them to wake up. He says “the night is far gone, and the day is near.” You know how it feels at about 6:00 in the morning these days? The night is really over, but the sun hasn’t come up yet, and it’s still really dark, but you look at the clock, and you know it’s morning. And you believe that it is going to get light. So what do you do? Well, if it’s a day when you can, a lot of us might go back to sleep. But if it’s a day when you are about to get up anyway, you get up. You get up and you get dressed. You take off the night clothes and put on the ones you use in the day. Paul uses that kind of expression to invite us to turn away from the wrong things, and start doing the things that we would want to be seen doing. He gets specific. Live honorably. Don’t go partying and getting drunk and getting so caught in immediate gratification of your physical body that you forget all about what you are supposed to be doing. Don’t quarrel with each other. Don’t be jealous of one another. Instead he says, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” He too wants people to begin living God’s way right then.

With both Isaiah and Paul, there is a sense that something good is going to happen in the future. And the truth is, they didn’t know how far out that future might be, and we still don’t know today. But we do know that when we take their advice, and live as if it is already here, the vision grows stronger. And when we can catch a glimpse of it, we become more likely to believe in it, and to get excited about it, and to help bring it to fruition. We don’t know when that day will actually come, and just like grandparents don’t know if they will live to see their grandchildren grow up, but they often help with the planning for how to bring the hopes and dreams the family has for a child into reality, we can hope and dream that one day that vision will be fully realized, and if we aren’t here to see it, our kids might be, or our grandkids, or generations yet to come, but the world will be a better place if we all work for it now.

So we are anticipating the birth of Christ, and the return of Christ. And while we wait, we don’t stop living, but as Christians, we focus on living God’s way, and teaching our children to do that too, and we never stop hoping and believing that the world will, in fact, one day live in peace. We anticipate that, and we work at living into it, especially now as we begin our advent journey. May God bless us on our way. Amen

Anticipation

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