Isaiah 35:1-10; Psalm 146:4-9; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11
The Wish Book
Decades before Amazon Prime and the Big Box store’s same day pickup, we had the Sears Wish Book Christmas Catalog, a consumeristic teaser designed to whet our childlike appetites for expectant Christmas joy. For 60 years, starting in 1933 until 1993, America waited in anticipation for that behemoth slick page treasure trove of electronics, clothing, tools and yes, toys to arrive in the mail. When it finally came, I know that I literally looked at every single page with glee.
I have memories of one Christmas waiting for an Evel Knievel action figure, motorcycle, and tour van. The next year, it was the Mattel Vertibird helicopter toy I could not wait to see. One year, it was an authorized NFL Washington Redskins football uniform that would give me some Christmas joy. From the day I put in my order to Santa Claus, I could hardly wait until Christmas Eve. By the way, I never understood why St. Nick and Sears had their little toy distribution arrangement until I worked for the company in the 1990’s.
Christmas time has been a time, to wait and anticipate, but for many of us, we were waiting for Santa’s arrival on Christmas Eve. We were waiting for Santa at the end of the Macy’s Day parade (and all Christmas parades). We were waiting for and anticipating, with expectant joy and hopeful fulfillment, childlike desires, but is that really the “Reason for the Season?”
Maybe even today we are merely waiting for the moment we can all sit down in our living rooms or dens and begin to unwrap the gifts under the tree. Maybe we are merely waiting for a son, daughter, grandson, granddaughter to arrive, so we can overwhelm them with Christmas family cheer. So, this Advent Season, I want to ask you, “for whom are you waiting; whom are you anwaiting, and for whom do you long to see?”
Advent is a season of anticipation and waiting. Webster defines “anticipation” as the act of looking forward, or pleasurable expectation, or a visualization of a future state.” An article in Psychology Today asserts, “Anticipatory thinking lets us recognize and prepare for a future outcome. It’s different from making predictions because we don’t necessarily expect events to play out the way we imagine — complex situations are too hard to predict. Instead, we are getting ourselves ready, bracing ourselves, preparing ourselves.” (a) The article goes on to say that Anticipatory Thinking, “must engage our ability to generate expectancies, and to draw on our mental models. (This allows) us to perform the mental simulations that transform our understanding of what is happening right now into what may happen in the future.” (a) In other words, anticipatory thinking, like what we are encouraged to do in Advent, helps us to transform “what we believe will happen,” into transformed reality of “what we truly believe will happen.” In other words, anticipation is the first steps to a new reality.
Talented singer/songwriter Carly Simon wrote a hit called, “Anticipation.” You know the chorus, “Anticipation, anticipation is making me late is keeping me waiting,” One verse in the song states, “We can never know about the days to come, but we think about them anyway.” Simon in modern prose and beautiful note reminds us what we hear the prophets proclaiming. She tells us to prepare in our heart for the impending reality to come; which in our minds has already started to become reality.
Theologian Paul Tillich once wrote, “Although waiting is not having, it is also having. The fact that we wait for something shows that in some way we already possess it.”(1) “Waiting”, says Tillich, “anticipates that which is not yet real. If we wait and hope in patience, the power of that for which we wait is already effective within us. Those who wait, in an ultimate sense, are not that far from that for which they wait.”(1) It is in the anticipation and waiting that we experience in our minds, that which we have yet to experience with our five senses.
So this time of year,sensation called to a time of anticipation and an expectant future not yet seen. We need to be intentional about living into that “not yet” reality, which is to come, but to do that, we need patience. “Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord.” James the brother of Jesus, told the early church to wait patiently for the return of Jesus. Those early disciples (post resurrection) lived in an anticipation that Jesus’ return was imminent and just around the corner, so there was some tension and anxiety and fear in the system. People were a little on edge about what was to come, kind of like many of us are today, waiting for Christmas knowing all the things we have to do to get ready.
The apostles had to remind folks to slow down, to not get the cart before the horse, to be patient, but to keep watch and be ready. Advent can be that slowing down waiting and anticipating and hoping for the coming of the Lord, both as the babe in the manger, and when he returns “to judge the living and the dead.” However, this patient waiting is good and all, if we are waiting for the right one, the Savior of the world. And that takes me back to my original question, “This Advent Season, for whom are you waiting; whom do you anticipate, and for whom do you long?”
Think back to when you received those Sears Wish Book presents, when the wrapping paper came off and the boxes opened, sometimes the long-anticipated gift looked much different than presented. Evel Knievel’s motorcycle never jumped as high as advertised, the helicopter toy did not fly as fast as the commercials touted, and the Washington Redskin’s Football helmet was made from cheap plastic and looked more like an imitation, rather than the one Joe Theismann wore on the gridiron. Sometimes what we expect of God is not the reality of God’s Kingdom come, but what we want to come.
When John the Baptist found himself locked up in prison, it was if he had just experienced that same Sears Wish Book disappointment. Just the week before, he had been confident in Jesus and who Jesus was, boldly proclaiming, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Now that he is in prison facing death, he is not so sure about the one he anticipated and waited for so long to see. Now that John’s reality is different, his doubts caused him to send word to Jesus and ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
Jesus tells John’s disciples, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” This is not what John expected of the one he had waited for and was waiting for now. Originally, John preached of a Savior who would topple kings and wield fire and Spirit. P.C. Enniss writes, “Jesus is turning out not at all as he (John) had expected. Truth is, Jesus rarely is what we first expect.” (2)
For whom are you waiting?
Ironically, the prophetic voice of Isaiah said, “Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense.” Some of God’s followers anticipate all good things will come from God, but they expect that it will come with a price to pay; vengeance and pay back for God’s adversaries. However, that is not what God ever has in mind. Maybe we are confused about who this Jesus is that we proclaim. Maybe we like the early chosen and the early disciples, anticipate and wait for a Savior who will come on the scene, and further our own personal agendas, improve our own personal economic situations, or ensure we find the perfect gift for our beloved at Target when we go shopping for those Christmas gifts.
If we are living in anticipation of the coming of the real promised , then we need to make sure we are waiting for the actual promised one of God. P.C. Ennis tell us that “Christmas is perceived as the radical entrance of one who literally wants to change the way the world thinks, operates, perceives reality—then life in the ensuing meantime is more likely to follow that pattern.”(2)Jesus clearly points out to John and to each of us, for whom it is that we should be waiting. Jesus said, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” You see, the one for whom we anticipate, the one that all of this is about, the one who is the “reason for the season” is not a power-wielding superhero type that will save the world through formidable might and violent vengeance.
The one for whom each of us is waiting is the one who through sacrificial, self-giving love has already begun the work of restoring creation to its original intent, to its original beauty, and to its original relationship to the Creator, all through love. Jesus, the one for whom we are waiting has already arrived, bringing good news of peace, joy, reconciliation, and restoration, but do not forget, he is coming again. So, with all that in mind, this Advent season, I have to ask one last time, “For whom are you waiting; whom do you anticipate, and for whom do you long to see?”
(1) The Shaking of the Foundations (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1955).
(2) Enniss, P. C., Jr. “Waiting: Matthew 11: 2-6.” Journal for Preachers, vol. 29, no. 1, Advent 2005, pp. 22–25
(3) Alison, James. “Stretched Hearts.” The Christian Century, vol. 124, no. 24, Nov. 2007, p. 21.