Faithful Waiting

         A young couple learns that they are pregnant.  The first days upon making this discovery are filled with alternating sensations of excitement, fear, and utter disbelief.  As those first days pass and the weeks and months drag on, the couple settles into a more stable oscillation of excitement, fear, and disbelief.  But whatever else their nine months entails, it most assuredly does not include passivity or lack of attention.  Theirs is an active and faithful waiting.  They do the things that give life.  She reads What to Expect When You’re Expecting.  He puts together the crib.  They both gaze with wide-eyed amazement at the changes in her abdomen as God’s blessing grows within her, until they can feel and even see the child move, rolling and pitching like a ship at sea.  Their waiting is marked by prenatal visits to the doctor, sonograms and blood tests.  There are anxious moments.  There are wondrous moments.  And there is an attentive and faithful waiting.  The birth will come, and it will be glorious.  The couple can prepare.  They can tend to this blessing they have been given.  But the moment that this child will arrive no one can say.  And so, they wait.

         A 102-year-old woman has outlived her friends.  She enjoys a clear mind, but her body will not respond to her will the way it once did.  She is not depressed, at least not often, but she does wonder why she remains when so many have gone.  She does not fear death, knowing in faith that death is a transition rather than an end.  And so, she waits.  But hers, too, is an active and faithful waiting.  She does the things that give life.  She writes letters, and when she is unable to hold a pen, she asks the woman who cooks her meals to write the words for her.  She talks to her family, passing on the stories that have informed her life and formed her wisdom.  She mends the tears that unavoidably have occurred in some relationships over so long a life.  She talks to God regularly and listens for God even more.  There are anxious moments.  There are wondrous moments.  And there is attentive and faithful waiting.  The woman’s reunion with loved ones gone before and with God will come, and it will be glorious.  The woman can prepare.  She can tend to the blessings she has been given.  But the moment that she will enter larger life no one can say.  And so, she waits.

         The Creator reaches down from the heights of the cosmos and dips a hand into the chaos and void.  God moves back the darkness and ushers in the light.  God breathes over the waters and brings forth life.  God bestows upon the creation every blessing, most especially the gift of free will, to determine for itself the kind of world it will be.  God looks on with pain and sorrow as the creation makes choices that lead to destruction and death.  People kill one another.  Nations wage war.  Those charged to be stewards of creation use the green earth in ways that cannot be sustained.  Knit into the Creator’s tapestry of creation is a Savior, who will come and offer redemption to those who have fallen so very far, but the time has not yet come.  And so, God waits.  It is an active and faithful waiting.  God does the things that give life, coming to those in need, crying with those who sorrow.  God labors to melt stony hearts.  There are anxious moments.  There are wondrous moments.  And there is attentive and faithful waiting.  The time will come for the Savior’s birth.  The time will come for his Second Coming, when the creation will be mended and made whole, and it will be glorious.  But the time is not yet.  And so, God waits.

         No one likes to wait.  When given a choice, we are all people of instant gratification.  But blessedly, in those instances in which we have no choice we at times experience waiting as a profound gift.  Just as the pregnant couple, just as the 102-year-old woman, can experience the time of waiting—when the child is formed in the womb, when wisdom is passed on to younger generations—as a gift.

         Today’s Gospel passage in Matthew is one that has been hijacked by those who espouse the very shaky Rapture theology.  But this passage is not about the Rapture (which, by the way, is itself not an authentically scriptural concept).  This passage is about faithful waiting.  It is about doing the things that give life, so that when the Creator’s time has reached fruition, and Jesus our redeemer and friend comes to make all things new, we will recognize him.  It is about, in our anxious moments and our wondrous moments, waiting.

         This has everything to do with Advent, which begins today.  Advent is not primarily that period in which to do our Christmas shopping.  It is a holy season of anticipation and waiting.  I have asked myself why, for some, the Christmas season is such an unhappy time, why it rings so hollow for so many.  I have come to the conclusion that, for some, it is because Christmas in our culture strikes some as so very false.  As if in an eggnog-laden daze, we commercialize and consume our way through late November and December, dragging Christmas ever towards us with flash and tinsel.  There is no faithful waiting.  Instead, there is a breakneck attempt to usher in the holiday earlier and earlier.  And so, for most of us the significance of the Nativity is lost altogether.  For others—those for whom the holiday is so difficult—the good cheer of the holiday season has rung so false that when Christmas Day arrives it is experienced like that drugstore candy that looks so tantalizing as we grab for it but once in our mouths tastes like cardboard.

         Advent is a holy season of anticipation and waiting, both for the Nativity and for the Second Coming.  What would it look like to observe Advent?  What would it look like to hope for the Nativity rather than grabbing it and dragging it backward?  What would it look like to hope for Christ’s return, not knowing the moment it might occur? 

How do we faithfully wait?  Matthew encourages us to be about the things that give life.  He mentions Noah, who labors to build a vessel of life while the world around him continues in its normal, destructive ways.  What, in our lives, might it be to do the same?

         Can you imagine observing Advent by taking half of the money we’d normally spend on Amazon this month and instead purchasing items from our Alternative Giving Market or feeding those who are hungry through a donation to our Food Pantry or St. Francis House?  Can you imagine turning off the television in the evening and instead reading to your family from the second chapter of Luke?  Can you imagine beginning to live today as if Christ might come tomorrow and look you—or me—straight in the eye and ask, “Did you wait faithfully?  Did you make peace?  Did you love?”

         Not all candy tastes like cardboard.  On special nights at my grandmother Boo’s house, she would heat up the oven and mix together a bowl of mushy white meringue.  The entire time she would talk to us about how important it is to wait for the best, most blessed things in life.  She would add chocolate chips to the concoction and then spoon out little blobs onto a cookie sheet.  Once the oven was hot, she’d turn it off, place the cookie sheet inside, and leave the oven door cracked.

         “Now we must wait,” she’d say.  And we would do so actively, never knowing when the treat would be ready.  She would tell us stories of faith, teach us in ways of virtue, and tuck us safely into our beds.  Only the next morning would my grandmother open the oven and let us see what was inside.  Where those mushy blobs had been were now light and airy morsels of such delicate sweetness that they melted in our mouths.  Had we bought them at the store, or had she prepared them with us watching television, zombie-like, in the other room, or had she even told us in advance when they’d be ready, the experience would not have been the same.          So it is for us this Advent.  Christmas will come, and it will be glorious.  Christ’s return will surely come, but we know not when.  We risk missing the significance and the sweetness altogether if we fail to prepare for his coming.  There will be anxious moments, and there will be wondrous moments, as we live in faith.  As we wait. 


A few years ago over Thanksgiving weekend, Jill, our daughter, a nephew, and I drove the half hour from Paragould to Jonesboro to pay homage to my grandparents’ graves.  After we visited the cemetery, on a whim I decided to swing by my grandparents’ house, which I’d not seen for twenty years.  We made a slow drive-by 1244 Walnut Street.  The outside of the house was unchanged; the yard was well-tended; and there was a man in the carport unloading his pickup truck.  Because of the kind of person I am, we pulled up to the curb, stopped the car, and to Jill’s and the kids’ mild protest I got out to talk to the homeowner.  It turned out that he’d been the sole resident of the house since my grandmother’s death; he’d bought it from my mother and uncle and lived there for two decades.  And, he was happy to see us.  We talked for several minutes, and then, to my surprise, he asked, “Do you want to come inside and see the house?”

I should have declined, but my curiosity got the better of me.  We walked through the back door, and the experience was surreal.  The floorplan remained vaguely as I recalled, but beyond that my memory of my grandparents’ house dissolved.  Everything had been deconstructed.  The Formica countertops were gone.  The vinyl flooring was gone.  The mid-century modern furniture was gone.  The house was transformed.  The homeowner was excited to show me the house anew, and it was very nice, but I rebelled against the transformation.  I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

1244 Walnut Street in Jonesboro

We are not fans of the deconstruction of the familiar.  Whether it’s our old haunts, our old habits, or our understanding of the world around us, there is a human tendency to cling to the familiar as an unchanging comfort.  We want things to stay the same, when things are good but also, perversely, sometimes when things are bad.  Even when it harms us, we would rather remain in the construction of the familiar than risk its deconstruction toward who-knows-what.

This is equally true of our faith.  In seminary, I had a classmate who dropped out after one semester.  He was almost frantic to escape the seminary, because the first-year curriculum is so much about deconstructing what we’ve understood about our faith: its origins, its presumptions, it’s unexamined conclusions.  My classmate couldn’t bear to face deconstructing questions of his faith.  He saw them as a threat to his belief system, as if God might dissolve in the questions, and so he bailed as quickly as he could.

Today’s Gospel passage is all about the deconstruction of the most familiar and, indeed, most vitally important.  Those around Jesus are gazing at Herod’s temple, a massive architectural wonder of the world and the centerpiece of Jewish faith.  Jesus declares that the temple will, soon and very soon, be deconstructed down to the last stone.  His claim confuses and discomfits those around him.  The temple is the most permanent thing they can imagine, and it is at the core of their identity.  The notion of its deconstruction sends Jesus’ hearers into a frenzy of anxiety.  They can’t imagine life without it.

A model reconstruction of Herod’s temple in Jerusalem

About the temple, Jesus speaks literally.  Within a few decades, Herod’s temple will be, in fact, razed to the ground.  But Jesus also speaks metaphorically.  In his own coming passion and death, every presupposition, expectation, and hope within the hearts and souls of his followers will crumble.  At the foot of the cross, faith will itself collapse.  All the hope that the disciples had placed in Jesus will be deconstructed, piece by piece, until they are left in the rubble.

The lectionary wisely pairs this passage from Luke with God’s closing speech in the book of the prophet Isaiah.  Isaiah lives five hundred years before Jesus, during the era in which the first Jewish temple—Solomon’s temple—was destroyed.  During Isaiah’s life, too, the Jewish world and faith was deconstructed, and Jews lived in a decades-long literal and spiritual exile.  As Isaiah’s book nears its end, the Jews have returned to Jerusalem, but it is not how they remember it.  None of the familiar markers remain.  The world they knew is gone, crumbled to the ground like Solomon’s temple.  The people are bereft.  They begin to wish they’d never returned home. 

But notice: It is in that moment that God speaks a wondrous word.  It is then that the very deconstruction that led to despair becomes, instead, a foundation for hope.  Through Isaiah, God says to God’s shell-shocked people standing in the rubble, “I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.  But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.”

In other words, where the returning Jews see disaster, God sees building material.  Where the Israelites see a life deconstructed, God sees a foundation on which to build something new.  And note that God does not build from scratch.  Whatever new heaven and new earth God will create—whatever new life God will birth—is made of the remnant of the old.  God does not discard what was; God redeems it.


As I was racing out the back door of my grandparents’ old house, the new owner said, “Before you go, I want to show you your granddad’s woodshop.”  Reluctantly, I crossed the carport and entered the shop, expecting it to be as different as the house.  But with wonder in his eyes, the homeowner showed me the unique shelves my granddad Pop had made a half century ago using bicycle chains, the smooth worktable Pop had built that now held the woodwork of a different hand, the jars of nails, screws, and rivets that Pop had spent a lifetime collecting.  “Your grandfather must have been something else,” the homeowner said to me, “Some of these things I couldn’t bear to change, so I’ve incorporated them, and I’m glad to have them.”

I left Pop’s woodshop with my perspective on the house as transformed as the house itself.  It was new, but the new was built on the foundation of the old.  And though what had been familiar to me was deconstructed and transformed, it was good.


The thing is, we don’t get the Gospel without the destruction of the temple.  We don’t get to Easter resurrection without first spending time at the foot of the cross and in the tomb.  We don’t walk long or far in this world without the comfortable, familiar, and expected ultimately being deconstructed, leaving us confused, anxious, and bereft.  Whether it’s our haunts, our habits, our worldview, or our faith, sooner or later the world cracks and crumbles around us.  What do we do then?

It is then that we most need to hear voice of God, who promises that deconstruction is never for its own sake.  Whether God causes the deconstruction (as God sometimes does) or the world simply has its way with us (as the world often does), God will always seek to work redemption from the rubble.  Where we may see only devastation, God says, “I am about to do a new thing!  See, I make all things new.”

We look across the globe and our own community, and we see so much turmoil, so much centripetal force seeming to tear at the very fabric of all we know.  In your own life, inside or out, you may be experiencing the same thing.  The temples may be falling down.  Hope may seem to hang by a thread.  But God will never abandon or discard you.  Beyond the deconstruction, Jesus promises not a hair of your head will perish.  Beyond any exile, God promises to create you anew and give you joy and delight.  And God will use the you-that-is and incorporate it, build upon it, redeem and transform it, into God’s new creation.  And far beyond our individual lives, today both Isaiah and Jesus allude that what God does in each of us, God promises ultimately to do for the whole world.  Eventually, even the broken fabric of our creation will all be made new: “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox.”  The time will come when all things are made new—you, me, the good world round about us—and the love of God in Christ will be all in all.[i]

[i] Ephesians 1:23