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December 3, 2017

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-14

John 14:27

Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman

 

Today is the first day of Advent, a four-week season to help us get ready for Christmas and the birth of the Christ child. Advent is a season of quiet reflection. Advent is a season of preparation. Advent is a season of waiting.

 

Waiting is always the challenging part of Advent. The “When is Christmas?” question has already started in our household. Honestly, it started weeks ago, and how could it not with the stores decorating for Christmas right after Halloween?

Children are not the only ones who have difficulty waiting. Adults struggle with it as well. I wish I could say that as we grow older, we learn to master the art of waiting, becoming Zen masters of the ticking clock. Unfortunately, we often learn less than healthy habits for waiting.

We learn to wait with distraction, filling those waiting moments up that they might tick away faster. At my college orientation, I was told to always bring a book to help cope with the long lines we were destined to wait in. Now, the smart phone has replaced the book, with people distracting themselves as they wait for food in a restaurant, for a friend to show up, or for a family member to be done shopping.

We also have learned to wait with impatience – making huffing sounds or other irritated gestures when someone actually pulls out their checkbook at the grocery store – after they have made the clerk scan coupons for every one of their 20 items – in the 15 or less lane.

And we know all to well how to wait…..

…….with anxiety. We pace; we mindlessly eat; we let the hamster in our brain loose on its wheel to run wild with angst about what might be. We know all to well how to wait with anxiety.

 

However, do we know how to wait with hope? Do we know how to mindfully, peacefully, wait in an attitude of expectation and anticipation? Looking forward with joy even as we embrace the present with thanksgiving?

 

That was what the exiles in Babylon were being asked to do.

As had happened often in Israel’s life, their capital city of Jerusalem had been sacked, destroyed, conquered by a foreign army. The Temple, the place where they met and connected with God, had been destroyed, and as a way of keeping the people subjugated, the best and the brightest had been carried off to Babylon. Like in the passage from Isaiah we heard two weeks ago, this was a time of deep darkness for those being forced to live in exile, from their people and their land.

There must have been times when they also wondered if they were being exiled from God.

This was a time of darkness and hopelessness for the exiles in Babylon, and into their lives came a letter from the prophet Jeremiah, a word from God.

How joyful they must have felt – until they heard what the letter said. Because instead of saying what the “other” prophets were saying, that they shouldn’t get too comfortable in Babylon, that they weren’t staying long in Babylon, that it would only be a year or two before they would be back in Jerusalem, rebuilding God’s temple. Instead of saying what the “other” prophets were saying, Jeremiah’s letter said the opposite.

 

Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they might bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:5-7)

 

Live, God tells them. Live your lives as you wait. Build. Plant. Celebrate weddings and the birth of children. Seek the welfare of the place where you live – yes, even pray for this place that you did not choose to live, this foreign place where you have been forced to live.

Live as you wait. Do good as you wait. Rejoice as you wait.

 

The exiles in Babylon are being told to wait with hope, to enjoy the present moment, instead of distracting themselves or being impatient or anxious as they waited for God to return them to Jerusalem.

Many of us could embrace that thought – to fully live our lives as we wait, to enjoy the present moment even as we wait, to wait for the future with hope.

 

Could you wait for your happy ending for 70 years? Seventy years for the future of hope God promises?

 

Seventy years is a lifetime for us. Seventy years to the Israelite exiles was perhaps two or even three generations. That is a long time to wait for a “future of hope”.

 

So how do you wait with hope when God’s timetable is not as speedy as you planned and dreamed of? And how do you wait with hope when God’s promises do not look like what you planned and dreamed of? How do we wait for the future with hope?

 

We look backward. We remember all of the ways God has blessed us and provided for us in the past. We remember all of the times when our plan was not God’s plan – and God’s plan was better.

We look to our past, and we remember God’s faithfulness to us throughout our lifetimes, throughout generations of lifetimes, and we trust in God’s faithfulness for the future because God has been there for us – in the hard times and in the joyous times; when we had to say goodbye to loved ones and when we welcomed new ones into our lives; when we lost all that seemed familiar and when we built new with pride.

We wait for the future with hope because God is with us every step of our lives.

 

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. (John 14:27)

God’s time is not our time. God’s plans are not our plans, and we can get impatient. We can become anxious. We can want to fill up these waiting moments with distraction.

Or we can hope. We can take a deep breath, remember God’s faithfulness, and wait for the future with an attitude of openness, anticipation, and joy.

 

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. (John 14:27)

 

God has been with us; God is with us; God will be forever with us. And so with trust and faith, we wait with patience; we wait with expectation; we wait with hope, for the future blessings God promises to all of God’s children.