The Third Sunday of Advent
Rev. Dr. Kristen Bennett Marble
9 December 2019
Theme: The Waiting Place
When I graduated from high school, I was given Dr. Seuss’ book Oh the Places You’ll Go. In Dr. Seuss’ classic rhyming-verse, the journey of life – complete with its triumphs and tragedies – is detailed, including descriptions of time spent in the Waiting Place. In the Waiting Place, “Everyone is just waiting…Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come, or a plane to go or the mail to come, or the rain to go or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow or waiting around for a Yes or No, or waiting for their hair to grow.” As we find ourselves in the middle of the Advent Season, we too are in this Waiting Place. We may not be waiting for the bus or plane – we may not be waiting for the mail or hair growth – yet we find ourselves waiting. Waiting for Jesus. For his consolation of the world. For his promised shalom. And for his coming Kingdom.
Whenever I find myself in a Waiting Place, I am often tempted to respond just as the crowds did in this week’s text from Luke. “What should we do?” John had just chastised the crowds, longing to see in them true repentance and changed hearts. Some in the crowd authentically responded to the challenge, and with fervent faith to live differently wondered aloud, “What should we do?” Have you ever been there? Sensing a call from the Lord, hearing a challenge from Scripture, recognizing brokenness that needs mending. “What should we do?”
John responds immediately to their questions with specific – and challenging – answers. Their injustice, greed and dishonesty needed to be replaced by mercy, generosity and integrity. Yet he also pointed forward to the coming Messiah. The responses to our Waiting-Place question, “What should we do?” reveal a now-and-not-yet answer. Now we are to examine our hearts and our habits. Where is there need for repentance and renewal? How can we better bring about justice and joy? But not all can be done now in our own strength, and in our own timing. Just as John’s crowds had to watch for the coming Messiah – so too must we. And so this Advent Season, we ponder, pray and prepare. And we persist in our waiting.
And yet, as I read and reflect on this week’s readings, I am also aware of a great distinction. We who are waiting wonder, “What should we do?” The Lord who is righteous rejoices as his promises are fulfilled and his people are rescued. The Lord does not wonder what to do. He knows his promised presence brings peace: “The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm.” He longs to lavish his love: “He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing” (Zep 3:15, 17). He sends salvation through his Son: “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation” (Isa 12:2).
The entire Advent Season of waiting – and specifically this week’s readings – reminds us of two distinct truths. First, our response to waiting should always be, “What should we do?” And our response to the answers we hear should always be obedience. Second, God’s response is always that his faithful fulfillment comes at precisely the right time. He is not slow or surprised. He is not worried or anxious. His patience has a purpose, and should bring us peace (2 Pet 3:9, Phil 4:7). Dr. Seuss’ Waiting Place was a worrisome time; Advent is a peaceful time. We can trust the One who calls us to wait. As we look for the not-yet-coming Messiah, we can practice the challenges of now.
For Reflection and Discussion:  Have you asked the Lord yet this Advent Season, “What should I do?” What has been his response? How are you implementing or acting on that answer?  During this Advent Season, in what ways do you find yourself in a Waiting Place? How do the Lord’s promises in Zephaniah and Isaiah encourage you in this time of waiting? Paul’s exhortations to rejoice in Philippians are clearly based on these Old Testament promises. If you were writing a letter to a friend needing encouragement, how would you summarize this week’s readings from Zephaniah and Isaiah?
Bibliography: Dr. Seuss, Oh the Places You’ll Go! (New York, 1990).
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