When the Time is Right
Do we know how to wait? And just because circumstances in the past have forced us to wait doesn’t mean we know how. We’ve all waited at the airport, the DMV, and at the pharmacy to pick up a prescription. We’ve waited at the doctor’s office, in traffic court, and in line to go to confession (although some of you might not remember doing that for some time). We’ve waited for medical test results, report cards, and that check to arrive in the mail. We’ve waited for the traffic light to change, the skin blemish to disappear, and the smell of burned chicken to dissipate. We’ve waited for loved ones to come home, illness to subside, and bad weather to pass. But in most cases, we have not waited with joy or peace or gratitude in our hearts. Rather, most of our waiting we have endured with fear, annoyance, anxiety and dread. And even after the waiting is over, we seldom learn anything good from the experience to take to the next occasion. Instead, we are filled with even greater fear, annoyance, anxiety and dread the next time we have to wait. And we will often take every opportunity to tell anyone about it, anyone, whether they want to hear it or not.
Do we know how to wait? Some things we don’t mind waiting for, and when we get impatient the results end up being less than optimal – paint drying, grass growing, cookies baking, quality lager brewing, fruits ripening, the seasons changing. These and many other examples are clearly subject to the laws of physics and biology. So we are helpless to speed the process along. And we just have to wait.
But when the variables include a human element, we can often be less than forgiving. How long should it take a person to get ready for school in the morning? How long to eat breakfast? How long to say goodbye at the end of a party? How long before you admit you made a mistake? How long before you stop making the same mistake? How long before the wound of division among the members of the body of Christ is healed? These last two days at the statewide LARCUM conference, I have seen a greater willingness to overcome the challenges to hospitality, and the challenges of serving hand in hand the poor and those in need. There are many obstacles that continue to hinder our journey toward what we call “full communion” with one another. We are more likely to point to our differences first when we think of joining other Christian traditions in dialogue. But there are many more things that we have in common, which we can appreciate, celebrate, and study for future growth. If someone asked me how long I should take, the only answer I might care to give is “as long as I need,” or some more colorful variation thereof. But when I want to ask someone else the same question, the answer I am most eager to hear is “I’ll be there in no time at all.”
The difference I guess lies in what we consider worth waiting for. If our lives are governed by passing realities like how much money we can make, how many things we can possess, how much fun we can have, how much trouble we can get away with, then the less time we have to wait, the better. Instead, if our lives are governed by eternal realities like how much good we can accomplish, how many lives we can affect in a positive way, what legacy we want to leave behind, what the God and Father of Jesus Christ would consider most important, then we would care more to get it right than to get it right now. Because the concept of time is something human beings created to help make sense of the world. We like to name things, to quantify and define them, to figure out what they do, and why they do what they do, to understand their ultimate purpose, to give them a unique place on a shelf in our library of knowledge and experience. If we are successful at doing these things, we consider ourselves masters of the created universe. And nothing will be beyond our grasp.
But we soon discover that God is mystery, completely beyond our efforts to understand and define. We might grasp various manifestations of God, different ways that God expresses his presence and his power, but we never truly grasp who God is. We can figure out cause and effect in the world of physics, biology, and all the other sciences, so we expect God and all God does to be reasonable and predictable. For the most part, God can be. But God is not entirely subject to the same laws that govern us and our world. We are most familiar with the material world we live in, but God is Spirit, and not at all limited by time and space.
So do we know how to wait? When we are able to see as God sees, which is quite a stretch since we will need God’s eyes to accomplish such a task, or at least when we can trust that God knows what he is doing, then we no longer concern ourselves with when God’s will is to be fulfilled. The time is right when God determines it. Our responsibility is to first not get in the way, but to hasten the fulfillment of God’s will as God so chooses, with a sense of joy and peace and gratitude in our hearts.
When John the Baptist first appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, those most familiar with the prophecies announcing the coming of the Messiah were the least receptive to John’s message. They judged him by his appearance, by what he wore and what he ate. They had become such experts on who God was, how God thought, and what God wanted, they completely missed the God they had been preparing to meet. They did not truly know how to wait. They were more concerned about who looked more important, and who sat in the higher seat, and who argued more convincingly in defense of what they knew.
Isaiah, in the first reading, speaks of God comforting his people, announcing that God comes to reconcile, to restore, and to renew those he loved. A voice cries out in the wilderness. There is much work to do in the Advent season, much work to do to heal the gaping wound of division among the members of Christ’s body. The waiting we are called upon to do leaves no room for fear and annoyance and anxiety and dread. Those who are more concerned with passing things would be troubled by the waiting. Rather, with joy and peace and gratitude in our hearts, we make straight a way for the Lord. We level the mountains of our stubbornness and our arrogance, we fill in the valleys of our superficiality and our pettiness. Our God comes to be among us as a strong leader and shepherd. We prepare best for his coming by looking deep into our hearts and minds, and ridding ourselves of the things that get in the way of fulfilling God’s will, above all our impatience, our stubbornness, our arrogance, our misplaced sense of self-importance, our superficiality, our pettiness, and our lack of trust in God’s plan. We might have to wait some more. But we do so with joy and peace and gratitude. True unity among Christians may be a long way off, but we do not wait in idleness. Just getting the conversation started is a tremendously wonderful way to begin the journey. The time is right. We need to hasten to fulfill what God desires.