A Communion Meditation delivered by The Rev. Timothy Ahrens, Senior Minister, The First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Columbus, Ohio, Advent 1, December 1, 2002, dedicated to Kathy Fox and Todd Hills on their wedding day and always to the glory of God!
Isaiah 64:1-9 and Mark 13:24-37
(Part I of V in the Advent/Christmas Series: "Glimpses in the Beginning: Moments in the Seasons of Life")
Introduction: The past three months have been a time of full throttle celebration at First Church. What a magnificent time it has been! Today, we begin the season of Advent. During the next four weeks, we turn our thoughts to the simplicity and splendor of the Christ child's birth. The Sunday's leading to Christmas allow us the opportunity to slow down, to look at moments, at ordinary moments in the seasons of life. I begin a three part Advent sermon series today and there will be two Christmas Eve reflections as well. Glimpses in the Beginning of Advent will be: Waiting in the Wilderness, Comfort in Crying Out Times, and Birth in Unexpected Places.
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and meditations of each one of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our salvation. Amen.
Waiting is part of living. Before we enter this world, we wait for our life to begin. From our mother's womb to the full light of earthly life, we wait to be born. Throughout this life we live, many of us wait for the grander moments: times of celebration, the turning of the seasons, the right person to enter our life, the right job to carry us to success or happiness (or both), the arrival of our children or grandchildren, a perfect holiday celebration with family or friends, justice for the poor, peace on earth, and in the end we often wait for death itself, in ways not dissimilar to our gestation from conception to delivery.
All of us wait for the small moments as well: We wait for the person in the checkout line to find their cash or credit card; we wait for the phone to ring bringing us news we either dread or delight in; we wait for tears to end our crying time and calm to restore our sadness; for laughter to follow our well-thought-out and carefully dispatched jokes; for serenity to embrace us in the face of addiction; for evening quiet to follow daylight noise; for the moment in which a good book is finished, closed, and laid down after a long and meaningful engagement; for the range to reach a musical note which has seemed far out beyond our vocal grasp. Some of us wait for even smaller victories in our daily battles for and with loved ones or the often haunting enemies of our own souls. We may wait for one smile, for one kind word, for one gentle touch, or for one tiny hand reaching to us. However waiting becomes actualized in our lives, it grows out of expectation.
Waiting and watching define this season of Advent and define life itself. Consider Simeon. In Luke 2:25, we meet an old man named Simeon in Jerusalem who has been living in expectation of the coming Messiah. The Holy Spirit has revealed to Simeon that he will not die until he sees the Lord's Messiah. Can you imagine such waiting? He is torn between two feelings. The longer the Messiah delays, the longer he will live. But, his deep longing to see the Messiah impels him to pray for a shorter time of arrival, even though that will mean living less long. By the time Jesus is born, Simeon has lived so long that his days of enjoyment are diminishing. Life has given him everything it was going to give. He only goes on living in order to keep his appointment with the Lord. When the newborn Jesus is brought to the temple, Simeon is guided by the Holy Spirit to meet him there. When the parents of the child Jesus come to dedicate their son, as is the custom of the law, Simeon takes the babe in his failing arms and praises God saying:
Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word, for mine eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel (Luke 2:29-32).
(We know this today as the Nunc Dimittis - which our choir sings each communion Sunday).
Simeon's appointment with the embodiment of eternal life has brought him to the place of graduation from this life to the next. But the expectation surrounding Jesus just begins with Simeon's words as the prophetess Anna arrives on the scene. Anna is 84 and one who never leaves the temple but remains there in a continual state of fasting and prayer. Upon seeing Jesus, she also declares praise for God and speaks freely about the redemption of Jerusalem incarnate in this babe. Both are ready to face death having fulfilled their waiting and expectation in life.
Like Simeon and Anna, we are all aging. And like Simeon and Anna, we are all given opportunities to praise God, to speak freely about God's salvation, God's light, God's hope, and God's glory revealed in our lives. And as we grow up and grow older, we should all be asking what the Holy Spirit has in mind for us. What is it that God would have us do for him at this stage of our life? For what are we living in expectation? Whether 84 or 14, what meaning does this stage of life hold for us?
Although I cannot answer this for you, I can discern and search out the answer with you. But, I do know this, the answer is not "Nothing." The answer is never, "Nothing." Although we may be impatient in waiting, we need not yield to unending despair. We must not hasten the coming answer, neither should we impatiently expect it. It is enough to stay awake. It is enough to watch. It is enough to wait. Waiting will lead to an answer. That answer will lead to action.
Yesterday's Columbus Dispatch tells such a story for today, which is World AIDS day (on page A10). "In the winter of 1994, Jahnabi Goswami, was a shy 17 year old bride, her husband chosen by her family in the traditional Indian way. She is also the first person in the northeastern state of Assam to publicly admit she is HIV-positive, having contracted the virus from her late husband." He died in 1996 and her 2 year old daughter died the next year from AIDS.
Jahnabi has come out into the open to help others do the same. By breaking the secrecy surrounding her disease, she is encouraging others to speak out about the deadly virus and bring their stories out into the open. In India, an estimated 4 million people are HIV-positive - 0.7% of the entire adult population. In sub-Saharan Africa, 8.8% of the adult population is HIV-positive (as compared to 0.6% in North America). Rather than waiting for her death, Jahnabi is traveling throughout her region lecturing on AIDS prevention and telling her story. She reassures HIV-positive people that they can fight AIDS. She concludes her thoughts in the article with these words: "Until I die I shall continue my awareness campaign."
An "awareness campaign" defines Isaiah's and Mark's words today. Isaiah 64:1-9 appeals plaintively to God to intervene in history and fashion a decisive redemption for God's people. Concerned about human alienation from God and faced with the drastic consequences of human sinfulness, this text looks to God's heavenly intervention through God's incarnation; for us as Christians, a clear pointing to the birth of Christ. Mark 13:24-37 lays out an apocalyptic vision of Christ's second coming in which everything in all creation is affected by the activity of the Creator. The farthest star, the smallest blade of grass - everything will be changed by the end of time. Awareness is called for. Preparedness is mandated for all people.
Today, as we begin this season of Advent, we should remember that the root for the word "Wait" in Old English comes from the word, "watch." To wait is to watch. To be awake is to be ready for that which we cannot see, now. In the wilderness, be not afraid. Rather, be awake. Your waiting will yield an awareness campaign, the fruit of which will lead to new life. Amen.
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