It was in Wisconsin a little old couple walked slowly into McDonalds one cold winter evening. They looked out of place amid the young families and young couples eating there that night. Some of the customers looked admiringly at them. You could tell what they were thinking. “Look, there is a couple who has been through a lot together, probably for 60 years or more!”
The little old man walked right up to the cash register, placed his order with no hesitation and then paid for their meal. The couple took a table near the back wall and started taking food off of the tray. There was one hamburger, one order of French fries and one drink. The little old man unwrapped the plain hamburger and carefully cut it in half. He placed one half in front of his wife. Then he carefully counted out the French fries, divided them in two piles and neatly placed one pile in front of his wife. He took a sip of the drink; his wife took a sip and then set the cup down between them. As the man began to eat his few bites of hamburger the crowd began to get restless. Again you could tell what they were thinking. “That poor old couple all they can afford is one meal for the two of them.”
As the man began to eat his French fries one young man stood and came over to the old couple’s table. He politely offered to buy another meal for the old couple to eat. The old man replied that they were just fine. They were used to sharing everything. Then the crowd noticed that the little old lady hadn’t eaten a bite. She just sat there watching her husband eat and occasionally taking turns sipping the drink.
Again the young man came over and begged them to let him buy them something more to eat. This time the lady explained that no, they were used to sharing everything together. As the little old man finished eating and was wiping his face neatly with a napkin the young man could stand it no longer. Again he came over to their table and offered to buy some food. After being politely refused again he finally asked a question of the little old lady. “Ma’am, why aren’t you eating? You said that you share everything. What is it that you are waiting for?” She answered, “Oh, I am waiting for my turn to have the teeth”.
Waiting, we are in the season of waiting, we are in the season of anticipation, but what we are looking forward to is far more exciting than our turn to have the teeth. Today is the first Sunday of Advent.
Waiting, anticipating—those are two terms that on the one hand we recognize and acknowledge as Christians and yet quite honestly most of us don’t have a really good handle on how to do it. How do we wait for someone who has been going to come back for almost 2,000 years now? What does waiting or anticipating even look like practically speaking in our day to day lives? For answers let’s look at the Scriptures and at our own lives.
Our gospel account talks about servants who are waiting for their employer to come home. They are supposed to be ready so that when he shows up they can open up the door for him and get him situated. In those days there was the understanding that the master of the house would not put up with slackers. One did what one was supposed to do or one got fired. And if someone got fired in first century Palestine it was very difficult to get any other job and having a job was the difference between having food and clothes and a place to live. There were no welfare or unemployment checks. There were no safety nets in that society. So jobs and employment were very important. So being ready to open the gates and welcome their master home was key to keeping their jobs, key to their security. So here waiting, anticipating is keeping on doing what we are supposed to be doing as Christians. It is our continuing to faithfully serve Christ.
But continuing to faithfully serve is only one side of the attitude of our waiting. When we look at our reading from Isaiah we catch another feeling, another aspect of it. Isaiah says, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence! From ages past, no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eyes has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. What is the underlying feeling of this text? It is come back O Lord! We need you! We miss you! We want you here with us. There is a yearning, a strong desire to see God back in action, to see God in our lives, and to live in his presence again.
Do you remember the days of dating the one who would become your wife or husband? As I remember my own experience, I remember that throughout the day my thoughts would stray to who I would be with that evening. I would smile as I thought about what we do and just our hanging out together. I would look at the clock and think about how long it was until I drove to her house. And then when the time finally came and I had driven to her house and walked up her walk and reached out to ring the doorbell, there was the keen sense of anticipation of seeing her and knowing that when she opened the door she would greet with her wonderful smile. There was this anticipation and desire that we shared. That same anticipation and desire is also part of our Advent season. We will finally see our Lord Jesus face to face! We will see the one who loves us so much that he died for us! You and I will see his wonderful smile as he looks in my face and your face. This desire to see him and be with him is also part of our waiting and anticipating.
And there is another aspect to our anticipation that is also in that Isaiah passage and that is God will show himself to the world. Justice and peace and love will come at last to our sad world that is torn by anger, violence, injustice, war, prejudice, and hatred. Nations and peoples of the world will acknowledge Jesus as Lord. As we read in Philippians, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father. So we are desiring his return so that our world will have justice and peace and love.
And there is one more part of our anticipation of our waiting that is also really important. When Jesus appears he will do away with more than anger, violence, war and hatred. Also there will be no more hunger, no more sickness, no more suffering, no more growing old, no more loneliness, no more evil, and no more dying. When Jesus appears it will herald a new world! Scripture teaches us that there will be a new heavens and a new earth, the old things will go away and everything will be made new. So we also desire his return so there will be no more hunger, or sickness, or growing old or dying.
It is Advent. Jesus is coming. We are waiting; we are anticipating and looking forward to the return of Jesus; the one who loves us, who died for us. We feel this yearning in our Advent hymns like O Come O Come Emmanuel and Come Thou Long Expected Jesus. So in this Advent let us rekindle our desire to see our Lord. Let us remain ready, let us continue to faithfully serve him and let us continue to desire to see him as we look forward to seeing his smile as he looks at us. Amen