Waiting with Hope
By Clara D. Thompson
I don’t know about your neighborhood, but in our neighborhood one never knows when the garbage truck is going to come. Oh it comes on Fridays, unless there’s been a holiday during the week and then it comes on Saturday. And every other week the recycle truck also comes, so you have to pay attention to which week it is. But even so, on the day it’s supposed to come, you never know when it’s going to come. Sometimes it’s as late as 4:00 or 5:00 in the afternoon, but usually it’s around mid-afternoon. But you never know! We’re supposed to have our garbage can out by the street by 7:00 in the morning, but when they usually come so much later, I get lazy. I mean, why wake up early just to empty all of the wastebaskets in the house and take them (and maybe all of the recyclables, depending on which week it is) out to the curb when they usually come in the middle of the afternoon? You’re right! I’ve been caught a few times when the garbage truck came at 9:00 in the morning. I wasn’t ready.
Our Gospel reading from Mark this morning warns us to be ready … not for the arrival of the garbage truck, but to be ready for the arrival of the Son of Man – the Son of Man who, in one sense, will take all of our garbage away. We are exhorted to be ready for Christ’s return with great power and glory, to be ready for the Second Coming of Christ. Traditionally, the First Sunday of Advent is about the future – the future coming of our crucified and risen Lord as he returns to judge the principalities and powers of evil. The Season of Advent begins, not with reminders to put up the Christmas tree and start baking cookies, but as Roger Gench puts it, “with a bold proclamation about the Christ who will ultimately prevail over the brokenness of the world” when he returns. (The Presbyterian Outlook)
Honestly, the Second Coming doesn’t get talked about a lot in Presbyterian circles, even though it usually provides fodder for the sermon on the first Sunday of Advent. Most of us think of Advent as the season of preparing our hearts and our minds, not just our homes but our hearts and our minds, for Christmas, for the coming of the Christ child born in a manger. But in Advent we are actually called to wait expectantly – to wait with hope – for the One who has already come. As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the babe born in Bethlehem, we also prepare to celebrate when he comes again, not just into our hearts anew, but with great power and glory to judge and to redeem the world, to fix the brokenness of the world.
The 13th chapter of the Gospel of Mark contains Jesus’ final discourse to his disciples, though he is actually speaking privately to Peter, James, John, and Andrew. Jesus urges the disciples, urges us, not to be distracted by distressing events in the world around us, but to remain hopeful and watchful and ready for when the Son of Man comes with great power and glory, when Christ returns to redeem the world. Well, perhaps this year these readings speak to us differently than they may have in the past, for most of us have indeed been distracted by distressing events in the world around us. Let’s face it, it’s been a difficult year: a year of disease and death, a year of political turmoil, a year where many who would never have expected to face financial disaster have done just that, a year where many people have lost hope. Perhaps especially this year we can feel with the prophet Isaiah as he pleads with his God, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down” (Isaiah 64:1a). If you would only be here, God! If you would only be with me, I could get through all of this so much more easily. If you would only get out of the clouds and walk with me in MY shoes, then I could go on, knowing your presence, trusting your presence, living in your presence. Perhaps in this challenging year you too have implored God to make some sort of a dramatic epiphany so that you would know without a doubt that God is with us. In our desperation or despair, we wish that God might do something spectacular, for us, for those we love, for the world.
This year we have had a lot of distressing events, both as a nation and as a world, and for many of us in our own personal lives as well. In March we thought we’d be staying at home for a few weeks and then the pandemic would be over. In the spring there was a lot of talk about “getting back to normal,” to regular life as we knew it. Now, 8 months later, we wonder if that will ever be possible. We may also wonder whether it’s necessary or even appropriate or even, desirable. For we don’t want to lose what we have learned this year, what we have learned as we’ve grappled with the issues of the day, as we’ve reached out to family and friends in ways that are different because of the necessity of staying safer at home, as we’ve slowed down enough to observe our surroundings … the autumn leaves changing color from one day to the next, the early first skims of ice forming on the lake. We don’t want to lose the relationships we’ve built with our neighbors whom we’ve met because we’ve taken the time for more walking in the neighborhood.
Advent is a season of waiting. We’ve done a lot of waiting this year, and many of us are pretty tired of it. But Advent is also a season of hope. We hope for light in the darkness. We hope for a better world in which love and joy and peace reign more fully. We hope for the coming of Christ again and the ultimate reign of God. And the kind of hope we’re talking about is not a superficial hope, it’s not a Pollyanna sort of hope. The kind of hope that Christians talk about is a radical hope, a hope that goes far beyond mere wishing. It is a hope that requires both our attention and our action. The Gospel writer of Mark calls us to be vigilant, as we wait and watch, as we ready ourselves for the Lord’s return. The hope to which we as disciples of Jesus Christ are called is a hope that does not deny or ignore the present realities of our lives that are difficult and painful, but instead embraces them and imagines and hopes and works for a better future as we strive in our own lives to help it come about. It’s the kind of hope that says, day by day we must do the hard work of discipleship so that we are ready for whenever Christ comes again. It means that we must live our lives so that it doesn’t matter when he comes, so that we are ready, so that we are awake to the inbreaking of Christ. We are called to make each and every day fit for him to see so that we are ready to meet our Lord face to face. And for now that may mean staying the course. Taking care of ourselves and our loved ones by staying apart. Taking care of ourselves and our loved ones by checking in with each other more often. Taking care of one another by asking each other Meghan Markle’s simple question: Are you okay?
So, dear people, may we live as a people of hope, acknowledging the hurt and the pain, facing the difficult and painful realities of this year, but waiting. And let us wait with hope, knowing that God walked down the steps of heaven and came among us in Jesus Christ. Let us wait with hope, knowing that Christ will return to this world. Let us wait with hope, knowing that God will continue to strengthen our hope with the Holy Word, with God’s continuing faithfulness to us, with God’s eternal presence with us. And so, as we light candles during this season of Advent, let us indeed be a people of hope as we hope for a joyous and blessed Christmas, for a better year ahead, for a return to seeing friends and families, for a more secure employment and daily life, for the pandemic to be over, for greater peace in our world and unity in our nation, for Christmas to be filled with warmth and cheer, and for all of those things that God hears in the whispers of our hearts. Let us remember to hope in this season, the hope to which God call us, the hope in God’s steadfast care. For Christ is our hope, and he will return. Let us be ready. Amen.