31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
June 18, 2023
Luke 1:5-25, Ephesians 4:1-6
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
While patience might be a virtue, it’s certainly not a characteristic we come by naturally; otherwise, Sesame Street would not need multiple segments teaching children how to wait calmly and be patient.
We are people of faith though, and our ancestors in the faith have often had to be patient and wait. Enslaved in Egypt, the Israelites waited generations for God to free them, and then had to wait 40 more years to reach the Promised Land. Enslaved Americans had to wait over 200 years to be declared legally free, and then 250,000 enslaved people had to wait two more years until the Union Army came to Galveston, Texas on June 19th to communicate and enforce the Emancipation Proclamation.
Waiting is hard. Waiting for peace and justice is hard. Waiting for God to answer our prayers is hard. Waiting for the Holy Spirit to move in our lives is hard. The spiritual gift of patience is hard.
We want to live lives that are worthy of God’s calling. We want to be humble, gentle, andpatient, to have this aura of serenity and calm as we live with one another in love.
Patience is hard though. While Sesame Street has great strategies for children (and adults) as we wait in lines and wait for treats, singing a song or making up a game is not really enough to sustain us as we wait for months, years, even centuries for peace, justice, and answered prayers.
While patience might be a virtue, we don’t always think it is a gift. And yet, patience, the ability to wait with peace, is a fruit, a gift of the Holy Spirit. Patience and peace are gifts given to all of us, gifts that make our lives better; gifts that change our lives for the better; gifts that bear fruit and make others’ lives better.
We see that in the lives of Zechariah and Elizabeth, whose story we heard today. Elizabeth and Zechariah were faithful people. Zechariah was a priest, for goodness sakes, a man set apart by his people and community to care for God’s temple, a man who was allowed to go into the sanctuary next to the holy of the holies that contained the ark of the covenant, God’s resting place on earth.
Elizabeth and Zechariah were faithful people, and yet, they did not have a child. Then and now, there is a lot of judginess around children – judginess about people who choose not to have children, judginess about people who can’t have children, judginess about when people have children and how many.
Talk about judginess, Elizabeth is described as “barren”, which has all sorts of negative connotations – unproductive, unfruitful, incapable of producing worthwhile results. And in their time, another word would have been added – unfaithful. The lack of a child would have been seen by their community as a sign of their unfaithfulness, a sign of God’s disfavor.
Can you imagine how many prayers Zechariah and Elizabeth offered up to God? Can you imagine how hard it was to wait – to wait at all, let alone wait peacefully? And yet, scripture tells us that they continued to be faithful. They continued to pray and wait patiently for God to answer their prayer.
While we might not want to hear it, this time of waiting, this time of patience was a gift. When we get something right away, we aren’t always thankful for it. We can sometimes take it for granted; however when we have to wait patiently for a child, a partner, a home, a job, health, peace of heart and soul, when we have to wait for these things, we see them through different eyes. We see them through the eyes of gratitude.
While we hope that all parents treasure their children, after years of waiting, after years of patience, Zechariah and Elizabeth were not only grateful for this child. They also understood what a gift this child was. Patience, this time of waiting, had prepared them to nurture the Holy Spirit in John that he might fulfill his calling to prepare the way for the Messiah.
The spiritual gift of patience blesses us with gratitude, and the spiritual gift of patience blesses us with peace, peace of mind and peace of heart.
Like the Israelites who had to wait 40 more years after being freed from enslavement in Egypt, like the Americans who had to wait until June 19th, 1865 after being freed from enslavement in the Confederacy, even when Zechariah heard the good news, he, too, had to wait more. He had to wait patiently for that promised child; He had to wait to even tell anyone about that promised child.
The gospel of Luke makes Zechariah’s muteness seem like a punishment, a punishment because Zechariah questioned, because Zechariah did not automatically believe. I wonder, if instead, Zechariah was “gifted” with muteness, gifted with time to be quiet, time to reflect on this experience, time to process the coming Messiah and that his child would be “great in the sight of the Lord”, leading people to turn their hearts to God and to one another in love (Luke 1:15)
It was a once in a lifetime experience to be the priest called upon to enter God’s sanctuary and offer incense in praise to God. And then to have an angel appear to him! That must have been beyond overwhelming so perhaps not being able to talk right away gave Zechariah the gift of time, time to reflect on what this experience meant and what it would mean. Scripture tells us that Elizabeth, herself, went into seclusion for five months – giving herself the gift of time to reflect on this miracle.
Patience is about giving ourselves that gift of time. Patience is about giving ourselves time to slow things down, to be less anxious, to embrace decisions and experiences with calm. The spiritual gift of patience shows us that we don’t have to have it all figured out right now. There is time. All in God’s time.
When we embrace that it is a gift to wait patiently, a gift to be able to reflect upon the blessings of our lives, a gift to be able to be thoughtful, our lives are better. We are more grateful for what we have received. We are calmer and more at peace. Our lives are changed for the better, and we are then able to bring that serenity, that calm, that non-anxious presence into the lives of others.
That terrible medical diagnosis? That waiting for news about a job, a college scholarship, a child to adopt, family reconciliation? When we embrace the spiritual gifts of peace and patience, we are better able to sit with people, wait with people, embodying the spiritual gifts of peace and patience in their lives.
It’s okay to wait. It’s okay to have to wait for answered prayers. It’s okay to give ourselves time to be reflective and thoughtful. It’s not only okay to wait.
It is a gift, a gift of the Holy Spirit.