I, being of not so sound mind, do hereby proclaim today as Waiting Sunday. I know, you’re thinking: “Didn’t we wait enough in Advent?” “Yes, but,” when what you await arrives, something new appears for your next “wait.” And we wait all over again. So today – I call out Waiting.
What are we waiting for today – more than just the end of the sermon? Worship, adoration, praise, communion – yes, that would be Super Bowl Sunday – closest some will have to a religious experience this day. Two NFL teams await kick-off. The other teams wait for next season. Many wait to feast on cholesterol enhancing foods. Others wait to see new, funny TV ads, many of which I have no idea what they want us to buy. And, oh yes – there is a game.
And there’s more. Today is also Groundhog Day. We wait for a groundhog to tell us spring will come early. In this Wisconsin winter, maybe spring will come by June.
I suspect you’re here, because you are devoted Christians, and you’ve been waiting to celebrate the Feast of the Presentation, which falls this year on a Sunday, a rare occurrence. It’s also called Candlemas. We light the Christ Candle this day to remind us that in Jesus, God’s light goes out to the world.
But more waiting is afoot. God’s been waiting for a long time. Will Willimon writes of a modern parable he once heard. The angels meet at God’s throne to discuss the mess humans have made on earth–all the wars, fighting, killing, the poor neglected – so much that God despises. God speaks: “I’ve tried everything. I love them and woo them. They like my words of peace and goodwill, but they won’t live them. I send prophets to warn them. When they won’t listen, I try to get their attention. When they fail, I always give them a new start. They make offerings and sacrifices, but do they turn their hearts toward me? Never!” Then an angel suggests: “The only thing to do is go down to earth. Live with them every day. Get to know them, become one of them. Love them up close and personal. Maybe then they’ll take God’s love seriously, and see how awesome their lives can be.”
The angels stand awkwardly silent. They’d been to earth on missions before. They are not about to volunteer for long term duty in such a murderous, sordid place. Finally God breaks the silence. Without resignation or bitterness, God announces, “Then I will go.” Is it possible God waits this day, each day – on us?
On earth an old devout Jew, Simeon, goes day after day to the Temple. He’s waiting, too. He welcomes each family who comes to present their first born to the Lord. He scoops the child into his arms, studies the child, and hands him back, “Yes, you have a nice one. He’ll please the Lord.” At night Simeon goes home. At dawn he returns to the Temple door again. The Lord promises Simeon he’ll live until he sees God’s salvation in a newborn boy. Simeon is crazy enough to believe it. People who know Simeon say, “He ain’t right in the head, you know.”
When Mary and Joseph arrive, Simeon takes their child, holds and studies him, then to everyone’s amazement sings out: “Lord, you have now set your servant free. The light of your salvation shines on all peoples and nations.” Simeon’s wait is over. He now can die in peace. But first, Simeon blesses the parents. Then he whispers a disturbing word to Mary. Her child will become a controversial adult, attracting some who believe him, and some who will kill him. The spear that pierces his side will be the sword thrust through Mary’s heart. Now Mary will spend Jesus’ lifetime waiting to see what this awful word means.
And Anna, an old prophet and a widow, faithful servant at the Temple, ambles in. And she joins Simeon: “He’s the child we’ve been waiting for.”
What are you waiting for? Waiting Sunday – three big events – a holy trifecta this day. Do we wait for what’s truly important? The world hasn’t changed much since Simeon and Anna saw God’s salvation come to the house of worship. The poor get poorer. Violence and evil grow like creeping Charlie in Wisconsin summers. Churches are declining – some even closing. A woman told me the other day she fears her church will have to close soon. I asked, “What are you doing about it?” “We few faithful show up pretty regularly, but we are discouraged.” “With God or yourselves? I mean, are you inviting people to what faith you have – you know, doing as Jesus asks?” “We’re hoping maybe we’ll get a better priest before it’s too late,” she replied. “Oh, okay,” I said.
What do we wait for this day? A priest whose church was declining remarked to his priest friend: “I think they’re waiting for Messiah to come and save them, and I’m not him.” And his friend replied: “Too bad they’ve missed the first one.”
And back in heaven, the angels still talk. “What do you have up your sleeve next?” they ask God. “Nothing really – I’ve done what I can do by becoming one of them. I stay close to them, though some oppose me. Some say they’re for me but don’t act like it. Others know my love, and they love others, and are striving to change the world. I count on them to let the others know I love them all. One day all will know. Now, I wait for them.” And we wait for what?