Scripture is full of calls to wait. How long, the Psalmist asks God over and over again? Psalm 40 is famous for that because of the U2 song 40, the one that ended their concerts for over a decade and is loosely based on Psalm 40. I preached using Bob Dylan’s song “All Along the Watchtower,” where watchmen look out over the night, waiting, just like in the prophet Habakkuk. In scripture, Moses is ready to move and act against Pharaoh and ends up killing a man, running into exile in the desert, where he meets God. David wants to move to overthrow Saul, but he, too, must wait. Prophets from Isaiah to Zechariah have to wait to start their ministry. Jesus goes into the wilderness for 40 days, waiting for his ministry to begin.
And perhaps most powerfully, as Jesus faces his own death while in the Garden on Maundy Thursday, he calls to his disciples with a simple request: watch and pray. They, of course, fall asleep instead of keeping the night watch with Jesus, but in a moment of deep agony and grief, knowing all that is to come, Jesus doesn’t take action; he watches, he waits, and he prays.
The Bible is full of waiting. For these churches, just as with Jesus in the garden, the prescription from Peter is wait and pray. For us today, the prescription is wait and pray.
Last Sunday, during drop off of food, I heard a Christmas carol coming from a car as food was dropped off. It was Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. In the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, we often miss what’s happening at church: we’re waiting.
Advent means waiting. It means watching, keeping a hopeful lookout for the coming of Christ. During Advent, in the Sundays between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve, we’re supposed to experience what it was like for those who waited for the coming, the advent, of the Christ child, God’s fulfillment of God’s promises to the world.
So maybe, since it’s not a holiday season currently, we can experience Advent now. We can eagerly anticipate the coming of God’s redemption, God’s healing, God’s recovery of the world. For it will come. It always does. We can keep watch for God’s light, for God sightings as Leigh puts it to the children; waiting and praying for our salvation.
Peter’s language is like Advent; it calls on us to wait, yes, but to wait with hope. We can do so because we know that God wins in the end. God will provide. God did not cause this virus; hear that clearly, this is not some test, not some smiting or consequence of our or the world’s bad actions. That’s not how we believe God operates. This virus and all of its repercussions is the consequence of evil in the world.
But God triumphs over evil. God has the last word. God redeems, which is the fancy theological way of saying that God turns the bad stuff of life into good, somehow. God is the God of great reversals, turning our mourning into dancing, our grief into joy, our isolation into comfort, our exile into peace.
And so, like at Advent, we wait with hope. That means, we wait without fear. I can’t help but think of that line from O Little Town of Bethlehem, “Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light. The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
The hopes and fears of these forty days are met in Christ, who shines in our dark streets. We live and move and have our being in a time of darkness. I run and play with the kids on these beautiful spring days and can’t help but think of the sheer irony; for our beautiful days are the opposite of our lived experience.
Waiting means turning into the darkness, embracing the reality of the moment. All my activity, all my striving, was me running away from the grief, from the loss, from accepting that all I can do, all any of us can do, is wait. All we can do is live in the darkness.
And! And…and keep a watch for the light; wait and pray, with a watchful eye for God sightings.
The light is in our darkness. Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light. The light is in the food we’ve given away and your generosity that matches. The light is in the way we’ve fed the third shift at the hospital and your generosity. The light is in the masks you’ve made and the cards you’ve sent.
The light is in the way you call and check on each other, extending the pastoral ministry of this church in a way I could never do on my own. The light is in the way you offer encouragement to each other.
But look closer still. The light is in our families. The light is in my oldest son, whose endless well of compassion and love amaze me. The light is in my youngest son, whose energy and enthusiasm no amount of darkness can dampen. The light is in my wife, whose tireless dedication to her faith even in the dark moments of grief inspire my faith. The light is in my family, for we have a great one that’s full of love and that exemplifies to me the love of Christ, for just when one of us is weak, the other is strong, and just when one is suffering, the other knows just how to provide.
Where do you see the light?
We wait, but we wait with hope. Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light. Grief is awful, loss is terrible, and social exile is making us all suffer. But we have a “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading…we who are being protected by the power of God through faith…even if now for a little while [we] have had to suffer various trials…”
We have an inheritance, even though “we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil, for…we have a delightful inheritance. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives and we shall live in the house of the Lord forever.”
Look for the light. Keep a watch for it. And while you do, wait and pray. No matter the darkness that ensues, yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light. The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
In this dark time, the light still shines.
Where do you see the light?