Paul gives us an astonishing understanding of waiting in the New Testament book of Romans, as rendered by Eugene Peterson, “Waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.” With such motivation, we can wait as we sense God is indeed with us, and at work within us, as he was with Mary as the Child within her grew.
Though the protracted waiting time is often the place of distress, even disillusionment, we are counseled in the book of James to “let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete.” Pain, grief, consternation, even despair, need not diminish us. They can augment us by ading to the breadth and depth of our experience, by enriching our spectrum of light and darkness, by keeping us from impulsively jumping into action before the time is ripe, before the “the fullness of time.” I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I hope.
Birth: Wonder…Astonishment…Adoration. There can’t be very many of us for whom the sheer fact of existence hasn’t rocked us back on our heels. We take off our sandals before the burning bush. We catch our breath at the sight of a plummeting hawk. “Thank you, God.” We find ourselves in a lavish existence in which we feel a deep sense of kinship – we belong here; we say thanks with our lives to Life. And not just “Thanks” or “Thank It” but “Thank You.” Most of the people who have lived on this planet earth have identified this You with God or gods. This is not just a matter of learning our manners, the way children are taught to say thank you as a social grace. It is the cultivation of adequateness within ourselves to the nature of reality, developing the capacity to sustain an adequate response to the overwhelming gift and goodness of life.
Wonder is the only adequate launching pad for exploring this fullness, this wholeness, of human life. Once a year, each Christmas, for a few days at least, we and millions of our neighbors turn aside from our preoccupations with life reduced to biology or economics or psychology and join together in a community of wonder. The wonder keeps us open-eyed, expectant, alive to life that is always more than we can account for, that always exceeds our calculations, this is always beyond anything we can make.
One of my favorite things to contemplate in the Church of the Transfiguration’s mosaic apse is the New Jerusalem above Christ in Glory. The tesserae sparkle in brilliant shades of red, blue and gold. Buildings of different sizes line the path, and lead to a tiny door (almost like Alice in Wonderland) in the top center of the apse.
I look at all the buildings and wonder: will my whole Community family be in one big building, or will I be in one of the tiniest ones that look so welcoming? I do know one thing. God will be with me, and will wipe away every tear from my eyes, and there will be no more mourning or crying or pain. (Revelation 21:3, 4)
But how to get there? One of the clergy gave a little sermon about giving up everything to follow Jesus. He described a man who went to heaven carrying only a small suitcase of his most treasured possessions. He was welcomed at the door and given a new robe to put on. But the suitcase would not pass through the sleeve of his robe, so he had to leave it at the door.
Fortunately, most of us are not called to give up all our worldly possessions all at once, but we are a long way from one small suitcase. The more I unpack here, the less I’ll have to leave at the threshold of that tiny door to the New Jerusalem — and the more room I’ll make for Jesus.
In the Lauds reading today, it was quoted, “Heat makes things expand, and in the same way, love expands the heart.”
Well, I thought to myself, how appropriate! Last week I had just been confessing to a wise friend of mine (and asking for some help) about the lack of love in my heart for someone. I was so frustrated with my complete lack of control to expand my heart, to “grow my love.”
My friend listened to me, and after a minute said, “It’s not up to you to put the love in your heart. That’s God’s job. Your job is to confess and get rid of the anger, hatred, hurt, and anything that takes space in your heart that blocks God from being able to bring His love in.
I have distinct memories of the morning, some forty-six years ago, when my father died. Every facet of that life-changing day is carved in heart and memory, and I expect always will be. Our family gathered in the waiting area outside intensive care, anxiously awaiting word. When the doctor arrived, my mother asked, “Is there any hope”? His kind (and wise) reply was, “We hope he’ll live forever.” For me, it was a moment of decision–insist on what was, or move forward with graceful acceptance. I give this as an example of the difference between hope and Hope: that is, the I want versus what God’s mercy ordains.
When viewed through the prism of hope, life is a shifting pattern of beautiful colors and images. Big picture Hope. The kind I can’t distort or negatively impact. It moves silently ahead, checking dark corners and clearing a path. You can lose your way, lose perspective, lose your wallet — lose any number of things — but my advice? Never lose Hope.
I have a friend who considers the Bible the world’s greatest encyclopedia. She reads it in search of answers and is never disappointed! Recently, she told me of a verse, for her and me at least, newly discovered. That verse was Isaiah 50:10, which reads:
Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of His servant? Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord. This morning I woke up anxious, not quite sure of my way. Then words from an eighteenth century hymn writer, Joseph Hart, cut a path through my musings. He wrote,“Come, ye sinners, poor and needy, weak and wounded, sick and sore; Jesus ready stands to save you, full of pity, love and power.“ The hymn goes on to call the thirsty, weary, and heavy laden, and ends, “All the fitness he requireth is to feel your need of Him.“ Essentially, it’s a parallel message to the one from Isaiah, both coming within a single week! For those of us who sometimes wander (and wonder), it’s a recommendation well-worth considering.
I have great admiration for those who fix broken things. Carrying a metal box filled with mysterious objects, they arrive prepared for any task. The Psalmist speaks of a broken spirit and a broken and contrite heart, sacrifices that God finds acceptable. We’re also assured the Lord is near the broken hearted and delivers those who are discouraged (some translations say “crushed in spirit.”) So then, what’s in His tool box? I suggest the following:
Hymns of recollection and hope
Scriptures that inspire
A small prayer answered
A moment of solitude
A friendly interaction
A change in direction
We’re surrounded by God’s intervention. He’s in the repair business, eager to make us whole, and waits for us to recognize His presence.
At the scene of the Resurrection, the radiant angel cried out “Why in the world do you women mingle with your tears?”
On many levels, we can all find much to mingle our tears about. Whether it’s a personal situation, a family situation, certainly larger issues of violence, corruption, and disaster on national and global scales. But our faith must remind us that daily, the angel messenger brings us good news. “Behold, the tomb and understand: the savior is risen from the dead!”
I need to ask myself, where are today’s empty tombs in which I still mingle with my tears? Why do I keep looking in these empty places for help? If I am willing to just stop, stand still and open my heart, maybe I’ll find a radiant angel urging me to open another door – towards our eternally risen help, Jesus.
In Eugene Peterson’s Idiomatic translation of the Gospel of Matthew, many of Jesus’ words come alive in a somewhat shocking way. I pause to re-read and re-acknowledge the awesomeness of what Jesus brings us, and the duty that he calls us towards. Near the end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus told us:
“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love you enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves…If you simply love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal?…”In a word, what I’m sayings is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”
I’m slow to listen to Jesus’ call to “Grow up.” I’d rather nurse old hurts, take jabs at my enemies and not work to give energies of prayer and peace to others, especially those people or circumstances that I would normally shy away from. God desires so much more fulfilment for my life then I can comprehend. After re-reading this whole chapter from Matthew, I’m shockingly aware of how much possibility there is for an outrageously fulfilling, adventurous, and hope-filled life. God offers such a life to us, if we choose to live inside His kingdom.