The Common Good
December 2011

Bearing the 'Wait' of the World

by Enuma Okoro | December 2011

Reflections on the Common Lectionary.

The Word of God is steadfast and faithful. This is the promise and the witness of scripture. We are called to remember this promise. God is active in history and in our local and global communities, offering mercy that both comforts and baffles us. The Word of God speaks of restoration. It lives fully into its covenantal relationships. It offers a peace too deep and wide for anything less than poetry to hint at it. The Word of God is the stuff of visions and dreams. It is the calling of prophets. It is the witness of disciples. It fosters unlikely relationships. It is a transformation that requires patience and painful self-assessment. The Word invites us to mimic God’s healing care. It is for us and beyond us. It extends to those we would rather not think about or be concerned with. The Word of God is the fulfillment of all hope, all longing, and all waiting. As such, this Word demands preparation.

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In the season of Advent we dwell on what it means to bear the “wait” of the Word. What does preparation look like? How do we encourage one another to wait faithfully? How do we receive God’s comfort when it may not seem like enough for our present circumstances? What or whom are we tempted to mistake for the Light because we are so desperate to be restored from an illness so few of us even recognize we have?

Enuma Okoro, of Durham, North Carolina, is the author of Reluctant Pilgrim and co-author of Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.

[December 4]
A Posture of Waiting
Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13;
2 Peter 3:8-15a; Mark 1:1-8

Waiting is never easy, even when we wait for something good. Often we pace around and wring our hands, or worry about all that could go wrong. Maybe we think that waiting is a waste of time; that we are better off taking matters into our own hands. Advent’s lessons offer us an alternate posture in challenging times. There are few better ways to begin than with the covenantal language of Isaiah, “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God” (40:1). Sit quietly with these words; grasp their potency. They point the Israelites—and, by grace and extension, us—to remember that their identity and future rests with God, the One who is merciful and mighty. The Israelites may have forgotten, as we so often do, the awesomeness of the One for whom they wait, the One whose shalom is so richly dense and abundant that the psalmist can barely contain it in poetic imagery (Psalm 85:10-13).

Yet, even when God’s prophets bring a good and hopeful word, there is still a response required on our part. Inherent in good news is a call to turn toward the one who invites. These texts invite listeners to trust in and wait on God’s coming restoration of all creation. Part of waiting involves preparing oneself in a manner suitable to receive the fullness of God’s restoration. Preparation takes time. It is to our benefit that Peter suggests God’s patience and God’s sense of time are nothing like ours (2 Peter 3:8-13). It requires time to do the necessary communal and internal self-assessment that might lead us to the confession and repentance John the Baptist speaks of (Mark 1:4-5).

[ December 11 ]
Our Waiting Rooms Speak Volumes
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Psalm 126;
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28

Our posture of waiting is defined by whether we truly believe we are waiting for something that will not disappoint or mislead us. Any authentic practice of rejoicing always and giving thanks in all things, as Paul instructs the Thessalonian church (1 Thessalonians 5:16, 18), must be built on the belief that the One who is to come wants what is best for us. All around us we see systemic injustices perpetuated by greed for land or resources. It is hard to hold fast to a long-lasting belief in the restoration of creation without a community of encouragement, which is a living witness to that hope by the ways in which it practices and enacts God’s ongoing care.

Recognizing and attending to the oppressed, the brokenhearted, captives, and prisoners (see Isaiah 61:1) is an essential way we prepare for the coming of God. One temptation we face is wanting others to see us as the light, rather than as witnesses to the Light. John’s gospel extends a beautiful invitation to join in the work of God, but it also warns not to mistake ourselves or others for the Messiah. It is wise to test the rhetoric of those who claim to speak for God, whether from the pulpit or the political podium.

True prophets offer us painfully beautiful and challenging ways to live into our holy transformation. Despite the traditional gloom and doom attributed to prophets, they are good dreamers. We are well served to follow Paul’s advice to “not despise the words of the prophets” (1 Thessalonians 5:20) because prophets trust in the words and visions of God. The psalmist says, “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream ...” (Psalm 126:1). Not only are dreamers full of hope with vivid imaginations, but they also open up a scripturally affirmed channel for divine communication. When God imparts a prophetic word of hope and restoration, it affects the larger community. God’s transforming work is so full and expansive that it seeps out to bear witness and to restore lives in the most unlikely places. Our job is not to determine who is restored.

[ December 18 ]
Where is God’s Waiting Place?
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26;
Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38

Whenever we get comfortable in life we are tempted to flip the script on God, to start calling the shots. These texts remind us that we follow God. The Creator does not follow us. Leaders’ best intentions ought to be checked by God’s standards and principles. Be wary of the leader who decides a course of action and then gives it God’s stamp of approval.

In 2 Samuel 7, the prophet Nathan gave King David an unreflective and immediate “yes” in response to David’s desire to build God a house. But sometimes prophets have to check themselves and make sure their words align with the heart of God. David’s desire is replete with theological and political ramifications. God has no interest in settling in the suburbs now that King David has “arrived,” so to speak. The God of the Israelites is a God on the move. God sets the tone for how the Israelites live—not the other way around. David is only politically successful because God is faithful and enables it and because God has a much bigger purpose in mind. Nathan has to go back to David and tell the king to wait. God initiated this covenant and God has other plans. David wants to build a temple. God wants to build an eternal dynasty forged in God’s earth-shattering shalom.

In Romans 16 we witness God’s faithfulness to God’s promise. Jesus is the fulfillment of shalom, who was born of Mary and Spirit, and who will come again as Savior. The emphasis is on God’s work, not humans, not kings, presidents, or clergy. As the psalmist sings, it is God who blesses, equips, and establishes. It is God whom we praise and worship. Our readings begin with a comfortable king who desires to build God a house. They end with a poor unwed girl’s willingness to house the Son of God in her very body (Luke 1). There is beauty and gift in being portals of God when, in humility and vulnerability, we recognize ourselves as servants not masters, and as utterly dependant on God.

[ December 25 ]
Waiting Requires Trust
Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96;
Titus 2:11-14;Luke 2:1-20

It is Christmas. The child is born. Now what? What has changed? Is the waiting over? The task—of prophets, leaders, dreamers, and those who choose to believe in the promise of God’s unimaginable gifts—is to trust. Whether or not Isaiah 9 speaks to the birth of Hezekiah or foretells the birth of the Christ child, the point is that the reigning Judean King Ahaz is invited to put his trust in God and not in his own fearful schemes. It is difficult to trust God when issues are pressing and time seems of the essence. It is doubly hard when seemingly ready, albeit less than perfect, solutions are at hand. King Ahaz chose to ignore Isaiah and joined forces with neighboring enemies for military might. Waiting is hard. As we celebrate Christmas we also recognize that all of us are still waiting on something, often desperately: a job, health care, a child to return, family to accept us, leaders we can depend on—the list is endless.

How do we join with the psalmist in declaring “God’s glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples,” while we continue to wait? We return to Mary, the one who has just delivered the child; the one who still recognizes that even though God’s word has come to pass, there is still so much more coming and more to be discerned. Mary is the one who continues to hear of good news yet to come and who chooses to “treasure all these words and ponder them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Because Mary knows God is faithful, she is willing to continue the difficult task of trusting. Even the ongoing waiting period is a gift of time eliciting a response from us (Titus 2:12).

“Preaching the Word,” Sojourners’ online resource for sermon preparation and Bible study, is available at www.sojo.net/ptw.

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