Originally preached on 12/1/2016 at Ohio Northern University’s weekly chapel service.
“In those days John the Baptist appeared in the desert of Judea announcing, “Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the kingdom of heaven!” He was the one of whom Isaiah the prophet spoke when he said:
The voice of one shouting in the wilderness,
“Prepare the way for the Lord;
make his paths straight.”
John wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey.
People from Jerusalem, throughout Judea, and all around the Jordan River came to him. As they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River.” (Matthew 3:1-6, CEB)
So I have a question that might be a little strange at first, but just work with me. How many of you regularly show up for class early – as in over 5 minutes early? (Nerds!)
While you wait for class to start, what do you do? Most of you probably don’t just sit there doing nothing, right?
You’re talking to your friends, you’re checking your Twitter feed, Tumblr page, Instagram, whatever; maybe you’re skimming the reading you were supposed to do last night just so you can get your participation credit for the day; maybe you’re taking a quick nap. Whatever you do, the waiting time before your class starts is never empty time, right? You’re always doing something.
It’s actually that idea of waiting that I want to talk about today. Waiting. We all do a lot of waiting, don’t we? We wait for our classes to start, we wait for a new movie to come out (Rogue One, anyone?), we wait in line at the grocery store, we sit in the waiting room at the doctor’s or dentist’s office. But if you think about it, you’re doing a lot of stuff while you wait. You see, this work of waiting is a lot more complicated than we think. Waiting is not doing nothing.
Waiting. Why does this matter? Well it matters because we are in the middle of a season called “Advent.” And waiting is what the season of Advent is all about. Advent is a season in the Christian Year, the four Sundays and the weeks in between leading up to Christmas. And Advent is all about waiting.
So what are we waiting for in this season of Advent?
Well the most obvious answer is Christmas, right? But it’s more than that. Advent reminds us that we are actually waiting for something more than our own Christmas celebrations.
And I think we need this season of Advent. Because, let’s be honest – if we’re just waiting for our own Christmas celebrations, we’re going to be disappointed. So often, the way we as U.S. citizens celebrate Christmas is so shallow. Let’s be honest here – the whole holiday of Christmas, as we celebrate it here in the U.S., is built on buying stuff. Yeah, we put a picture of Baby Jesus in a manger and angels on a whole bunch of stuff so we can say that it’s still a “Christian” holiday, but we’ve made this holiday to really be all about buying stuff. It’s not really about Jesus, it’s about buying and consuming all this other stuff – Christmas lights, Christmas wreaths, Christmas trees, Christmas candles, Christmas candy, Christmas food, Christmas music. And we buy all this junk so that we can live up to this vision of the ideal Christmas that we have in our heads, the vision that we get from the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, all the feel-good warm-and-fuzzy TV shows, Pinterest, Buzzfeed articles, all over the place. And we try to forget all the bad stuff in the world.
Now, I really don’t mean to be a downer or make you feel bad, because I’ll be doing all that stuff too – I’m just trying to speak truth. Our shallow Christmas celebrations will never live up to our expectations. We will be left disappointed if eggnog, Christmas movies, Santa hats, and waiting to get presents is all there is to this season.
But you see – it’s not Christmas yet. It’s Advent. And Advent is the season of waiting. Holy, sacred, waiting. And we are waiting for nothing less than God in Godself, the Creator of the cosmos, to come into this world. But it’s not like we’re pretending that Jesus hasn’t come yet, and we’re waiting for his birth. No, in Advent, we’re waiting for Jesus to come again.
In the United Methodist tradition, in our Communion liturgy, there’s a line called the Mystery of Faith that the congregation says together, maybe some of you know it. It goes like this: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”
In Advent, we look around us and remember that this world is not as God would have it be. We ourselves are not as God would have us be. We are broken and messed up human beings. We do everything we know we should not do. We hurt people, we harm ourselves, and we hurt our world. So this season, we name our condition – we need Jesus. Our world is broken, and we need Jesus to put it back together. This season of Advent, we declare that we are waiting on someone else to save us. We remind ourselves that we cannot do this on our own. We name our condition – any progress that we make cannot come from us humans, but must come from outside of us – just look at the mess we’ve created. So we wait on Jesus.
But if you remember what I said earlier, waiting is not sitting around and doing nothing. Waiting is always active. What do we do while we wait on Jesus?
Well John the Baptist tells us, from that Scripture you heard earlier. Remember what John the Baptist says? “Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the Kingdom of heaven!”
The kingdom of heaven is coming. God’s world is coming. Our savior is coming, the one who will save us from ourselves.
There will be a day when God enters our world again and transforms everything. There will be a new heaven and a new earth. Every tear will be wiped away, all harm will be fixed, all war will cease – the world will be as God would have it be, and we will be who God would have us be. That day is coming. That Savior is coming. That future will be here.
But it’s not here yet. We are still waiting on our Savior. We are still waiting on God’s future to come to us. So in the meantime, John the Baptist shows us what we can do. Change your hearts and lives.
We wait for Jesus to come again, but we don’t have to wait to change our hearts and lives – to repent. We are called to realize that this salvation and transformation that we all need, to which we are all called, cannot come from us. We are called to admit that we need help. We are called to admit that the only way we can do any good, the only way we can experience any transformation, the only way we can see any improvement in ourselves and in our world is by the grace and mercy and love of God.
So we wait for Jesus. We wait for the kingdom of heaven. And how do we wait? By changing our hearts and lives. By turning our hearts and lives toward God again and again and again, each and every day, saying “God, I wait for your kingdom to come into this world. But I don’t have to wait for your kingdom to be a reality in my life.”
So in this season of Advent, this season of waiting for our Savior to come, don’t just sit there, sipping eggnog and doing nothing. Examine yourself. What needs to be changed in your heart and life? What is there in your heart and life that is not holy? What is there in your heart and life that has not yet been surrendered to God? What actions, thoughts, cravings, or words are still in your life, even though you know they’re wrong? What habits or patterns still rule your life, even though you want them to change?
Change your hearts and lives. In this season of Advent, we wait for our Savior to come. But we do not have to wait to change our hearts and lives.