Patiently Waiting

Readings for the day (3rd Sunday of Advent – Sunday, December 11, 2016):

Isaiah 35:1-10

Psalm 146:5-10

James 5:7-10

Matthew 11:2-11

 

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

 

How patient are you?  I find that I’m really patient at times and at other times, well impatience gets the best of me.  We live in an ever changing world that is full of instant gratification, which has led to a loss of patience.  With smartphones, Google, DVRs, Netflix, 24/7 news channels, social media, email – as soon as something happens, word about it is instantly spread throughout the world.  We live in an information age where if you don’t know the answer to something, you can get it in a matter of seconds.  It actually takes longer to pull your phone out of your pocket or purse than it does to actually get the answer.

Instant gratification.  We’ve been trained to think we need everything instantly.  And what if something doesn’t happen instantly for us?  We don’t have time for it, and people wonder why even bother, it’s just a waste of time.  In 2012, a study conducted by the University of Massachusetts found exactly that.  In studying internet users, researchers found that a quarter of people would abandon an online video if it takes more than five seconds to load, and half of online users jump ship after ten seconds.  I remember when we first got internet with dial-up access and it literally took minutes to load a single webpage and watching a 2 minute video wasn’t even an option because loading the video would take too long – we weren’t allowed to tie up the phone line for that long.  Now videos on the internet are practically instant and webpages take milliseconds to load.

My youngest son is quite spoiled, imagine that.  When he is watching a show on TV, he gets very frustrated and upset when commercials come on.  All he wants to watch is his show, not the commercials.  Well who does, really?  But with a DVR and Netflix, we never have to watch commercials if we don’t want to.  So when we turn a show on for him and there is a commercial break, he instantly wants us to fast forward through the commercials.  Instant gratification.  We think we want it.  We think we need it.  And we get so impatient if it isn’t instant.

Now even though we live in a world that longs for instant gratification, we do a lot of waiting, don’t we?  We wait for the doctor.  We wait for kids and grandkids to get done with practice.  We wait for the phone to ring telling of the birth of a new member of the family.  We do a lot of waiting around, don’t we?

In our fast paced world today, we become impatient.  Like all of those people who are in such a hurry to get through the gate at the airport, just so that they can stand in line waiting to board the plane even though their ticket stub says seat 25A.  No one else will be sitting in that seat.  Everyone is in such a hurry these days, we have become impatient when things don’t happen as fast as we’d like them to be.

The Israelites have been waiting a long time for the Messiah to come.  So John, while sitting in prison, has his disciples go to Jesus (his cousin) and ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”  Tell us plainly, are you the one we’ve been waiting for?  Should we waste our time following you?  Or should we wait for someone else?

How long should someone wait?  I remember in my first semester in college, a classmate told me the waiting tier that he followed in waiting for a teacher who was running late.  I don’t know if this actually was or is a thing, but I found it interesting.  He told me that if the teacher has a doctorate, we should wait around 15 minutes after class was supposed to start.  If the teacher has a master’s degree, then we only need to wait 10 minutes.  And if the teacher is a teaching assistant in graduate school, then we only needed to wait 5 minutes before leaving.  John is wondering if Jesus really is the Messiah.  How much longer does he have to wait for the Messiah to come?

We Christians are wondering the same thing.  How much longer do we have to wait for the Messiah to return?  Our world is full of instant meals, instant certifications, instant results, instant coffee, and instant credit approval. In a world that can’t wait for anything, where is there room for waiting, for being patient?  When we have to wait for something too long, many just give up.  The faster paced our world gets, the harder it gets for people to wait for something.  How much longer do we wait for this Messiah to return?  Maybe we should just give up – many already have.  Waiting for Jesus to return is hard, especially when 50% of people can’t even wait longer than 10 seconds for an internet video to load.

It really is hard to wait, especially when everything around us is moving faster and faster.  But there is something that we lose if we fall into the trap of always needing to be instantly gratified.  “Waiting for something creates a sense of anticipation and excitement.”[1]  Without having to wait, there is no reason to anticipate anything, for everything is instant.  And without the buildup of anticipation, there can be no excitement.

There is great joy in finally getting to do something or have something that you have been waiting for.  Something so small as having to watch 2 minutes of commercials before seeing what is going to happen next, can generate excitement in us, filling us with anticipation of what is to come.  Likewise, we made reservations back in February to camp in the Black Hills this past July.  If I left in February right after deciding where we were going, I wouldn’t have been nearly as excited and the anticipation of going wouldn’t have been very strong.

The same is true in this Advent season, as we continue to wait for the Messiah to come.  The writer of James reminds us to “be patient…until the coming of the Lord.  The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains.  You also must be patient.”[2]  Waiting doesn’t come easy, especially when the wait is long.  But you can either give up or make the most of your time while we wait.  Scripture tells us over and over again that Jesus not only is the Messiah, Immanuel, God with us, but that He will also return again someday.  Unfortunately many in our community and throughout our country have given up on waiting for Jesus.  You can choose to do the same and give up too, or you can continue to patiently wait for Jesus to return when again we will see the blind receiving their sight, the deaf will hear, the sick will be healed, and the dead will be raised.[3]

Waiting with patience does not come easy.  Sometimes it is easy, other times it is almost too hard to continue.  The Lord frees you from the prison on account of your sin.  The Lord opens your eyes to see Him clearly.  The Lord lifts up those who are bowed to Him in worship.  The Lord loves you because as a child of God you are righteous and whenever Jesus does come back again he will reign forever and ever.  Praise the Lord![4]  Amen.

 

 

© 2016 Anthony Christoffels.  All rights reserved.

[1] https://www.odt.co.nz/lifestyle/magazine/finding-patience

[2] James 5:7, NRSV

[3] Matthew 11:5, NRSV

[4] Psalm 146:7-8, 10, NRSV

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Good Works is Repentance?

Good Works is Repentance?

 

Readings for the day (2nd Sunday of Advent – Sunday, December 4, 2016):

Isaiah 11:1-10

Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19

Romans 15:4-13

Matthew 3:1-12

 

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

 

The new church year begins with the season of Advent, a time where we not only prepare ourselves for the first advent of Christ (the coming of God made flesh in the birth of Jesus), but we also focus on preparing ourselves for the second advent of Christ (the second coming of God when Jesus will return on that final Day of Judgment).  One way of preparing ourselves is in the hearing of these words from John the Baptist, standing in the wilderness saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”[1]  This word ‘repent’ literally means to turn around; to have a dramatic change of mind and direction.  So we are called to put aside all of those values and practices that lead us away from God, and come back to God and turning back to the foundations of our faith.

Now repentance is nothing more than your own recognition of your personal sin and your need to be saved.  Repentance is acknowledging that what you have done was wrong, you’re sorry for what you’ve done, and you’re now going to strive to be better.  A growing understanding of being a Christian is that you can be a good person without going to church, which is true.  I actually know some atheists who are good people, and do some wonderful things for people in this world.  And I know a lot of people who do some pretty wonderful things for others.  But doing good works and being a good person will NOT save you.  So when John says, “Bear fruit worthy of repentance,”[2] he isn’t saying, “Do good works.”  After all, who at that time were the ones doing good works?  The Pharisees and Sadducees were doing everything they could to follow God’s Law to a T.  Plus they made sure that everyone knew that they were perfectly following what God wants.  So everyone should strive to be more like them.

Except, while he is standing in the wilderness, John calls the Pharisees and Sadducees not perfect children of God, but rather a “Brood of Vipers”[3] – children of the snake, children of Satan.  The reason?  Because repentance doesn’t mean to do more good works, but rather than you actually acknowledge your sin and realize your need for saving.  Bearing fruit of repentance then means that you believe that you indeed are a sinner and so you don’t act holier than thou, but act like a sinner.  And how does a sinner act?  By coming before God and saying, “I’m sorry.”

So John says that the ax is already lying at the root of the trees and “every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit (meaning: every person that does not acknowledge that they are indeed a sinner in need of forgiveness and strives to change their sinful ways) will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”[4]  This really is a life or death matter because on the Last Day, Jesus will come again and He will baptize, or rather, wash the whole world with either fire or salvation.  All of those who bear fruit worthy of repentance will be gathered like wheat into the granary, but all of those who don’t believe, who can wake up at 4:00 am for a $20 crock-pot but can’t bother showing up at 10:30 am to hear God’s Word and receive the forgiveness of their sins will be like chaff that will be burned.

Even though that sounds harsh, that is what Judgment Day will look like.  But today we also hear of what our salvation will look like on that Judgment Day.  “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together…the cow and the bear shall graze…and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.”[5]  Predators will dwell in harmony with their prey.  Can you imagine staunch republicans and staunch democrats getting along?  Can you imagine all those who voted for Clinton dining together with all those who voted for Trump – and getting along?  It doesn’t really seem possible in today’s climate, but today’s climate is tainted with sin.  When Jesus comes back again, all of creation will be restored.  So the wolf shall live with the lamb, the conservatives and the liberals will dine together.  No one will be at odds with one another when the Messiah returns, for all of creation will be once again restored and Jesus will reign over His kingdom forever.

The kingdom of heaven is not a land or place like we think of an earthly kingdom that has territory and a palace.  Rather, with Jesus reigning as king, His kingdom is present wherever He reigns and is actively working His power.  So when John says that the kingdom of heaven is here, he means that God’s kingdom is present in the hearts and minds of all believers.  Even today, all of those who bear fruit worthy of repentance, who believe they are sinners and are in need of saving, all make up the kingdom of heaven.  Even though God’s kingdom is not a land or place, you occupy space and time.  So “God’s kingdom is plainly visible because its citizens live in the world as living signposts, pointing to Christ Jesus by what [you] say and do.”[6]  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is here!”[7]  Through the Holy Spirit Jesus is here now, and on the Last Day Jesus will return in the flesh to separate the wheat from the chaff.

We have not had easy days recently as the church, with fewer and fewer people believing in God and choosing church over a $20 crock-pot.  And the future doesn’t look any easier, but remain steadfast in the faith for our God is gracious and merciful.  Keep your eyes and your faith fixed on Christ for we trust that one day Jesus will indeed return to gather all of His faithful wheat into His granary.  The kingdom of heaven is here!  Amen.

 

 

© 2016 Anthony Christoffels.  All Rights Reserved.

[1] Matthew 3:2, NRSV

[2] Matthew 3:8, NRSV

[3] Matthew 3:7, NRSV

[4] Matthew 3:10, NRSV

[5] Isaiah 11:6-7, NRSV

[6] The Lutheran Study Bible, pg. 1566

[7] Matthew 3:2, NRSV