(watch here: https://youtu.be/TKlesU-8Rls)
[Jesus said:] 24“In those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
25and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
26Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
28“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
32“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”
And so we set off on our 4-week journey through Advent. When Jesus spoke these words so many years ago, he knew all too well that his time in this world would have to come to an end eventually. He knew he was both fully human and fully divine. He knew, like all humans, that he must eventually die and leave this world. He also knew that, unlike all humans, he would have that chance to come back to this world in much the same form as he left it. He left the world as the master and will return as the master. Jesus is and will always be Lord of all. We boldly confessed this last week as we celebrated Christ’s kingship over our lives. Jesus reveals both his limited humanity and his unlimited lordship in this passage from Mark.
But Jesus also does something that for many of us is maddening: he sets up an indefinite time of waiting. As I confessed with the kids earlier, I’m not much of a fan of waiting. I’ve gotten better over the years but when I was younger I had no patience for it. Perhaps that’s the true sign of maturity—the growing ability to wait. Of course, I look around in our culture and I see I’m not the only one who has a problem with waiting. As a culture, we Americans have a real issue with waiting. When we want something, we want it now. And if we can’t have it now, well then, I guess we don’t need it or at least we shouldn’t want it. We want immediate access to everything and this has spawned all sorts of clever innovations in recent years, things like the Internet, smart phones, and self-checkout lines in stores. We, as a culture, are terrible at waiting. Our time is just too important to be spent waiting, or so we tell ourselves. We have much more important things to do with our time than waiting; work to be done, relationships to be maintained, places to be seen, things to be had, life to be lived…no time to wait! As bad as I think I am at waiting, I don’t think I’m all that different from the larger culture.
I can’t quite figure out why I and so many of us have developed such an aversion to waiting. On the one hand, we tell ourselves we have such limited time in this life so we have to make the best of it. Yet on average we are living longer than we’ve ever lived before. On average, we have more time than those before us so why all the rush? On the other hand, we tell ourselves that for some reason we deserve more time doing what we want to do instead of waiting. We earned our time by inventing things like the internet and smart phones. But did we really earn our time? Do we really deserve it? Is it not still a gift from our gracious God? We don’t deserve anything—we are gifted with everything. So why all the aversion to waiting?
Perhaps it isn’t about our value of time but the waiting itself. Waiting can be hard to do. There is too much of the unknown in waiting. We don’t know how the outcome will turn out. More importantly, we can’t control how the outcome will turn out. There’s nothing we can do that will affect how the outcome will turn out. And for many of us, this can cause great anxiety. It can be scary not being in control. It can be scary not knowing how decisions will pan out. It can be scary having to wait. Many of us don’t have a very high value of our time but we don’t like being scared by waiting.
Maybe our growing aversion to waiting is a combination of both our increased appreciation of time and our decreased acceptance of fear and anxiety. Regardless, I’ve come to realize that waiting serves a very important role in life and we might reconsider being so averse to it. It is in times of waiting that hope is created. It is in times when decisions can go either way, when outcomes can either benefit us or hurt us, it is in precisely these times that hope is birthed. When we know the decision, when we know the outcome, we no longer can hope. If it is a beneficial decision or outcome, then we feel joy. If it is an unbeneficial decision or outcome, then we feel sorrow. But we can no longer be hopeful once we know. We need the unknown, the powerlessness, the uncertainty to experience hope. And we know from Paul that hope is one of the three gifts of the spirit along with faith and love. Hope is what inspires us to be the best that we can be. Hope is what makes us do anything despite the odds. Hope is what enables us to be and do what God wants us to be and do. Though not as important as love, according to Paul, hope is essential for life to not only survive but thrive. Isn’t this how God wants us to live—thriving?
With the start of Advent, we are entering a time of waiting. Some of us have much better things to do with our time than wait for the rebirth of our Lord. Some of us are unhappy about the anxiety caused by this season. But we should all be grateful for the hope that is created by the season. We should all be thankful that we don’t know how Jesus will enter people’s lives this season. Jesus works in mysterious ways. Jesus finds ways into the hardest of hearts. Hope opens doors that were once closed. Hope brings new life and possibility. Hope is a true gift from God. Waiting might be difficult but the reward of hope is well worth it. I often remind myself how special a gift it is by remembering Jesus’ words, “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Even Jesus didn’t know when he’d return because he didn’t want to be deprived of the hope. Certainty has its advantages. It can provide comfort and security and stability and assurance. But it can’t provide hope. No, only uncertainty can provide hope. Let us go forth into the season rejoicing of the promised hope.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.