Is My Waiting in Vain

Is My Waiting in Vain

November 29, 2020 • Jevon Caldwell-Gross

Is my waiting in vain?

There was a memo that was sent out that only some people received. Now for those of that didn’t get it, because we lived with someone that got it, then we might as well have received it too.

You see growing up, there was an unspoken rule that said that you couldn’t put up Christmas decorations until after Thanksgiving. However, this memo that some people received gave people permission to throw away their pumpkins and put up their wreaths on the exact same day. I’m not naming any names, but some people took this new memo to mean that after Halloween it was just time to shop for Christmas decorations. People couldn’t wait! After the year that we’ve had, I think it’s only fitting for people to hurriedly move toward a season of celebration.

     In fact I don’t think the celebration of Christ coming into our world could have come at a better time. Starbucks has their red cups out. Trees are up, lights are hung, and the music is already playing. Regardless of your religious tradition, it’s hard imagining the Christmas season without Christmas music.

     The first song in our series that we bring attention to is the song O come O come Emmanuel.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,

And ransom captive Israel,

That mourns in lonely exile here,

Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, O Israel.

While this is a song that is recognized my so many, its origins actually stem from 8th-9th century from monks in a monastery. Seven days before Christmas Eve the monks would sing the “O” refrains in anticipation of Christmas Eve. It wasn’t until the 1800s that the hymn writer, John Mason Neale took these refrains and added Old and New Testament themes. Which means this song dates back over 1200 years.

Truth is every generation and every time period has its reasons for the celebrating of the coming of Christ into their lives.

              Faith requires patience

One of the toughest questions that comes up this time of year is not HOW, WHO OR WHY, but “WHEN”. It is the yearly reminder of the importance of waiting. When is God going to answer? When is God going to show up? When are things going to change? When are doors going to open? When is this trouble going to end? When is God going to intervene? There is no avoiding this reality, but Faith requires waiting. The Advent season centers around our willingness to prepare and wait for the in-breaking and in-dwelling of God coming into our lives.

Remember in many of these prophetic expectations similar to those found in Isaiah 64, there was no attached timetable. That would make it a bit easier. These prophecies, even like themes found within the hymn start centuries before Christ actually shows up.

That’s why of all the Christmas songs this one doesn’t begin with a whole lot of rejoicing, each stanza starts off with a desperate plea of invitation for God to show up. It’s slow. Drags out. Almost sounds depressing. Each verse repetitiously gives an invitation without a scheduled arrival. It’s one of those Christmas songs that you don’t play to get the congregation up and moving, O come, O come, (and thus the waiting begins)

BECAUSE That right there is the challenge of faith. The challenge for our faith is aligning our expectations with God’s schedule. Many people lose hope for this very reason. It’s simply because we get tired of waiting. We get weary of waiting on people to change. We get tired of waiting on the world to change. Its not that we question if God can do it, we just don’t trust or agree “when” God will do it. God doesn’t move on our schedule. Faith is really surviving the waiting period. It’s surviving the time between the “O Come” and the arrival. It’s surviving the time between the prayer and the answer.

Because we would rather have a God that operates on Demand. A God that operates around our schedules. We like a God that we can fit into the schedules of our expectations. There was a time in entertainment history when you had to wait an entire week to watch your favorite show. In fact I can chronicle periods of my life by recalling the shows I used to watch. Shows like A Different World. In Living Color. Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. College. MTV Real World. Grad school, Grey’s Anatomy and Law and Order/Law and Order SVU. Scandal. . (Finish) The something dramatically changed in our culture. They came out with this feature called On Demand. Now you were no Ionger at the mercy of a schedule. Now you could program your own entertainment around your own schedule.

And if we could have it our way, we would simply program our spiritual needs and divine in-breaking around the times that are most conventions for us. O come, O come right now. Because my faith in Christ’s arrival is not predicated on my trust in who, what, how or why but also trusting in when. Because the extent of my trust doesn’t stop at belief in Gods ability but has to include faith in Gods timing.

So here’s the challenge question that every Advent proposes, can we be just as patient with God as God is patient with us?

                              Point 2

        Which reminds us, Just because it hasn’t happened doesn’t mean it can’t happen. Remember by the time we get to the 64th chapter in Isaiah, the people’s condition prompts a longing for a Messianic figure to come and change their situation. They pray for the heavens to come open and for the earth to move! These four verses are penned within the context of still being ruled by foreign nations. There is an expectation that the arrival of this Savior will have very real social implications. They don’t just expect God to show up, but they expect that something is going to happen and change when God does. They want God to break open the heavens and do something about their situation.

The hymn mirrors this expectation. You can hear these expectations replicated right in the hymn. “And Ransom captives in Israel who mourn in lowly exile here.” “to us the path of knowledge show

and teach us in its ways to go” From depths of hell your people to save.

    But remember their expectations were not answered with immediate action. And this is where people lose hope. You see people don’t wake up one morning without hope. It happens over time. Year after year, they expect things to be different and they only get more of the same. The temptation for them and us is to think that this is the way things will always be. It’s easy to resign oneself when things don’t seem like they will ever change. And then it’s easy to assume that because it hasn’t happened, then it won’t happen. It’s where many of us find ourselves and our world. If healing hasn’t happened by now, then it’s probably not going to happen. If sobriety, or maturation, or forgiveness hasn’t happened by now...But just because it’s not immediate doesn’t mean that it isn’t possible.

Otis Moss III, a prominent Pastor out of Cleveland is actually in the process of having a film created depicting the experience of his grandfather called “Otis’ Dream.” It tells the back story of his grandfather who was denied the right to vote in 1946. This was the first time he had an opportunity to vote and woke up, put on his suit and tie, and walked 6 miles to his polling place. When he got there he was told he was at the wrong location and he had to walk another 6 miles. When he got to the next location, you’d never guessed what happened, they told him he was still at the wrong place and he had to walk another 6 miles. By the time he got to the next polling location, they locked the doors and told him that it was too late. He got home and his family was so excited; it broke his heart to tell him that he never got the chance to vote. He died before he ever got a chance to cast his vote. His story inspired a family of Pastors that worked tirelessly to advocate for others.

His story in many ways is our story. Because we’ve all been faced with something that didn’t seem possible. And we had the choice to decide if we were going to move even if something we wanted didn’t happen right away.

But that is the power of Hope. It’s the story of Advent. It’s the hope found in the refrain of this song and the reality of our lives. It is the belief that just because something has not happened doesn’t mean it can’t happen. It’s the belief in something that we have not yet experienced.

And that’s where hope comes in. Hope is the persistence and the resilience to believe that change is still possible. It’s believing that time has not diminished the possibilities. I think that’s why the Bible often connected a time frame to someone’s situation - to let the reader know just how long someone had been struggling, imprisoned, or stuck - when Christ shows up, things can still change. The affirmation of Christ’s arrival is a way of reminding you and I to keep believing. Keep believing in people. Keep believing in your prayers. Keep believing in peace. Keep believing in believing. Because even after centuries and generations, the presence of God still has the power to change things and people. Advent reminds us of this power. Now that’s good news.

                                              Point Three. No signs.

       Because what’s really troubling us is that God’s silence is often perceived as inactivity. It’s hard to stake a claim to a coming Messiah if you don’t see any signs supporting the evidence. Look at how this happens. Because of political and social unrest the people yearn for the presence of a Savior all the way back in Isaiah. From the last pages of the Old Testament to the Gospels, God goes silent. No signs. No wonders. Nothing. There are no obvious signs that their hopes for change will become reality. Nothing to suggest that Christ is about to render the heavens. Nothing to suggest that God is with them.

The difficulty is that sometimes we don’t see any signs of what God has promised. We know what He said, but that’s not what we see. God says, I will be with you, but where’s the evidence? God says, “Peace be unto”, but there doesn’t seem to be an abundance of that these days. God says, “people will know you are Christians by your love.” And yet even as people who receive it unconditionally we give so sparingly. God says “He’s coming back, but where’s the evidence?” For 400 years they hear nothing from God and nothing points to the coming of a Savior. Seems as if their waiting is in vain.

A few days ago, I was reading an article that talked about pilots learning to fly. I can’t remember for the life of me where I read the article, but it stuck with me. The article went into great detail about how when pilots learn to fly they must master learning to fly by sight. They have to master being able to navigate through the skies by making decisions based on what they can see. They have to see what’s around them. They have to see what’s below them. They have to fly by sight. But there comes a point in the pilot’s process where he/she can’t go any further until they learn how to navigate the vastness of the skies without their use of sight. They have to completely rely on the plane’s instruments. Because real-life demands it. There will be times when they must navigate through clouds. There will be times when they have to navigate through torrential downpours and even navigate through immense darkness. At some point, they have to master and trust their internal instruments and let go of always relying on the things they can see.

I think what’s true in the air, is true on the ground. There have been times this year when it seems like there were no clear signs to help us navigate. The shadows of the pandemic made it hard to see. The clouds of injustice and disagreement make it sometimes hard to keep believing. There have been times when maybe you felt like God was silent. And maybe all you needed was a sign. Well, maybe we too are learning to fly. Maybe we can get to a place where, even when the evidence suggests the contrary, we learn how to navigate the turbulence of the faith not by what we can see but the internal promises of faith. And it’s the promise that we serve a God that is accessible and wants to be with us. Maybe that’s why we sing these songs. Maybe these are our internal instruments to help us navigate, even when we cannot see.

As the story goes, on one normal night, everything that’s seemed so far off has finally become a reality. I wonder if there is something in your life or in our world that seems far off. But know that your waiting is not in vain.

O come o come Emmanuel. And ransom Captive Isreal. Rejoice Rejoice. Emmanuel shall come to thee O Isreal. Amen.