Advent 2 B: Active Waiting

Dear Partner in Preaching,

There’s waiting…and then there’s waiting. Do you know what I mean? Some waiting is, well, just waiting, the pointless exercise we all have to endure from time to time. Like sitting in the doctor’s office, just waiting for your name to be called so you can get your flu shot. But other waiting seems to matter. Like waiting in the doctor’s office for the results of the biopsy to come back or waiting to see the ultrasound of your coming baby.

I suspect you know what I mean. Some waiting feels empty and pointless, while other waiting is weighty, significant, and really matters.

Too often, I think, the kind of waiting we talk about in Advent seems like the former. Waiting to sing Christmas carols. Waiting to decorate the church narthex or chancel. Waiting for Christmas generally, as if we’ll spoil it if we don’t wait just right.

But I don’t think that’s the kind of waiting Advent seeks to invite at all. To get at that, it helps to realize that Advent is all about promises. And not just Advent, of course, but the whole Gospel. Given that most scholars consider the terse, descriptive opening verse of Mark – “The beginning of the good news of Jesus, the Son of God” – not to be, actually, the first line of the book but rather its title, Mark literally begins his account with a promise of Isaiah. It’s the promise of Isaiah to desperate Israel at one of the low points of its history. And while Mark clearly invites us to see John the Baptist as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s promise that one will come crying out in the wilderness, it’s the whole of Isaiah’s promise of comfort, deliverance, and renewal that Mark is claiming happens in the ministry of the one John heralds.

And the thing about promises is that they are not static. Not ever. Rather, promises – if you hear and believe them – create an expectation about the future and set something in motion. When I promise my kids we’ll play a board game after the chores are done on the weekend, inevitably the pieces are set out. When you promise to call someone after a date, that person typically anticipates the call. And when a friend promises you a ride home after the game, you don’t make other arrangements – why should you; you’ve got a promise.

Do you see what I mean? Promises create an expectation about the future and that future expectation sets something in motion right here and right now in the present.

The same is true about God’s promise. Truth be told, even more so. And that, perhaps, is the key message of Advent. That in the stable at Bethlehem God is not only keeping promises God made to Israel but also making promises to us. That in Jesus, God hears our cries of fear and concern and doubt at our lowest points and responds.

And, my goodness, but the headlines seem full of low points. Whether about the spread of Ebola, unrest in the Middle East, delayed – or perhaps deferred – justice in Ferguson. And to these cries for deliverance, God responds with promises of healing, peace, and justice in and through the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

I know, I know, we’ve heard that kind of promise before, and at times it may feel like just oh, so much more pie in the sky. But consider this: What if God’s promises are not all eschatological, something we wait patiently for until the end of time? Or, maybe more accurately, what if we are invited to participate here and now in the eschatological promises of God by contributing to them in the present? What if, that is, part of how God keeps God’s promises is through our efforts to heal, comfort, help, and bring justice?

Mark has something to say about that as well. You know how I said the first verse is probably Mark’s title for his work and so the opening verse (second verse in our Bibles – a little confusing, I realize!) is a promise. Well, the title is a promise, too. Notice that Mark doesn’t call his book, “The Good News (Gospel) of Jesus.” Rather, he titles it “The Beginning of the Good News….” Which means that everything Mark has to say about Jesus – all the healing, preaching, teaching, exorcising, and even Jesus’ death and resurrection – is only the beginning of the good news. There’s still more to come.

Maybe that’s why Mark’s Gospel ends in such a strange, unsettling way. (You remember, the angel declares Jesus resurrection and commands the women at the empty tomb to go share the good news but they run away terrified and say nothing to anyone.) Mark concludes his Gospel with an open-ending because it is, after all, just the beginning. The story isn’t over. Which means we are all invited to continue the story of the good news of Jesus as God continues to write the Gospel of Jesus in and through our lives as individuals and communities.

So perhaps, Dear Partner, the question to put to our people this week is what kind of waiting do they want to do? Sure, they can sit around and wait for Christmas, or Christ’s return, for that matter. Or they can get in the game, see how they can spend their time, energy, wealth, and lives making a difference right now. Because it’s not just John who is called to cry out and prepare the way. It’s all of us. Right here, right now, waiting actively, if you will, by making a difference in the lives of the people God has put all around us. God is continuing the story of the good news of Jesus in and through our words and actions and each of us will have a hundred and one opportunities this very week to contribute to that sacred story, to make it come alive, to help God keep God’s promises here and now.

No, what we do will not bring ultimate healing or comfort or peace or justice. That’s God’s job, and God will keep God’s promises to the fullest in the fullness of time. But we don’t have to wait for that passively but are invited to throw ourselves into that venture both trusting God’s promises and living them right here, right now.

This is the kind of active, involved, participatory waiting Advent invites. And why not get started now. After all, and as Mark says in the first words of the passage we read, this story about all those wonderful things that happened long ago? It’s just the beginning, and the story continues to unfold both around us and through us.

Thanks be to God, Dear Partner, for promises that impact and shape our present by creating a vision of the future and inviting us into it. And thanks be to God for all those who will cry out those promises to those eager to hear. Blessings on your proclamation this week and always.

Yours in Christ,

Post image: “The Preaching of St. John the Baptist” by Bacchiacca, 1520