THE LORD IS NEAR

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THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT

SCRIPTURE: ZEPHANIAH 3:14-18A

Shout for joy, O daughter Zion!
Sing joyfully, O Israel!
Be glad and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
The LORD has removed the judgment against you
he has turned away your enemies;
the King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst,
you have no further misfortune to fear.
On that day, it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged!
The LORD, your God, is in your midst,
a mighty savior;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
and renew you in his love,
he will sing joyfully because of you,
as one sings at festivals.


REFLECTION

A wife, mother of five, tirelessly works to keep her family routine together while her four year old son is undergoing chemotherapy. The Lord is near. An elderly widower, estranged from his children, suffers from loneliness and regret. The Lord is near. A teenage girl struggles with temptations, insecurities, and fitting in at school. The Lord is near. A husband and wife, married twelve years, slowly grow apart as selfish desires overtake their promise of, “until death do us part.” The Lord is near. It is at difficult times like these that we are waiting most impatiently to see, hear, and feel God’s presence in our life. Through fear…through doubt…through resentment…through isolation…through pain…wait, the Lord is near. 

 

I don’t like waiting. My penchant to avoid waiting has caused me to leave baseball games before exciting extra-inning finishes. I regularly walk out of restaurants rather than wait for an open table. An elementary education major in college, I graduated with my degree but one semester short of completing my student teaching requirement and earning licensure. I simply couldn’t wait to be done. I struggle to see the desirable outcome through my web of inconvenience and impatience. I have never been good at waiting. I want information on-demand, shipping in no more than two days, and a commute free from red lights. For as long as I can remember, the act of waiting has elicited the emotions of frustration, anxiety, and disappointment. Whether it is waiting in lines, waiting for test results, waiting for an elevator, or waiting for important milestones to pass, in my weakness I have allowed the wait to overshadow the final destination. As Tom Petty sang, “The Waiting is the Hardest Part.”

 

On this third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, the first three words of our first reading are, “Shout for joy.” The second line begins, “Sing joyfully.” The third line continues, “Be glad and exult.” No time whatsoever is wasted getting to the point of the matter. We should be excited and comforted because, “The Lord is near.” Gaudete Sunday is when we rejoice and remember that our time of waiting and preparing is almost over. Our perseverance is buoyed by the promise that God is Emmanuel (God with us).

Zephaniah continues by noting that, “The LORD has removed the judgment against you; he has turned away your enemies.” Thank goodness we can let go of the fear, self-loathing, hatred, and anything else that might get in the way of our rejoicing–they are no longer obstacles to welcoming Jesus into our lives. We are free to fully embrace and celebrate the coming of Jesus. And our reward is that Jesus, “will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love.” If only I could wait.

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What if I won the lottery? Would I take the lump sum payment now or choose the annual payment option? Most winners choose the lump sum and I suspect I would too even though waiting has some advantages. The Freudian concept of the pleasure principle suggests that I instinctively seek pleasure and avoid pain in order to satisfy biological and psychological needs; delaying gratification fires off painful emotions. Sometimes it doesn’t seem worth the wait as the outcome is undesirable, such as sitting in the waiting room to see a doctor who I don’t really want to see in the first place. Other times the value of the outcome doesn’t seem to justify the wait, as in waiting forty-five minutes in line to partake in a three-minute amusement park ride (and I don’t even like rollercoasters to make the matter even worse). Grocery store check-out lines only keep me from getting the next thing on my list done faster, and the passing of highlights (e.g. vacations, birthdays) leaves me disappointed and wondering how it can be over that quickly. It is perhaps the smallness and relative brevity of that which I waited for that makes the waiting the most dissatisfying for me? Why is waiting so hard? Waiting is hard because my needs are urgent, or so I think, and I want immediate results. This is where Jesus transforms me. Jesus is not just worth the wait, He is the wait. He is not ephemeral. Jesus is the destination and the journey all in one. Jesus is so much bigger than what I can fathom with my earthly abilities, if only I can wait.

One of the ways I try to pass the time waiting during Advent is through serving others. I hate to say it that way because it is so much more than just “passing time.” But Advent is a season I am reminded to share what I have been blessed with and tend to the needs of others. For that very reason, this time of year is a very attractive time for me to engage in volunteer activities (or at least feel like I should). And in doing so I may get a temporary boost in hope and filled with joyful expectation. But just as John answers the crowd saying, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming,” I have an opportunity to be a part of something bigger. Giving of my time, talent, and treasure only during advent season is analogous to the fleeting thrill of a rollercoaster ride. Rather, I should be using Advent as a time to prepare for how I can make my relationship with Jesus and living his lessons a part of my life all year long. Knowing that my enemies have been turned away and judgement against me removed, how could I go about loving others in a more profound way? The act of waiting is selfless, humble, and of Jesus’s example. In so many simple ways I can use the art of waiting to serve others. I can wait and hold the door for a stranger; I can pray for a friend while waiting for the elevator; I can wait for someone to finish talking and not jump in with my own comments and opinions; I can wait to let someone merge in front of me in traffic; or I can wait to buy myself something special and give the money I would otherwise spend to a charity. If only I could wait.

I know from experience that dying onto myself and loving others brings the most meaning to my life. I have seen it work but don’t live it consistently enough. I get caught up in my own annoyances and hurriedness. Yet Advent can be a time to lean into the waiting and reflect on where Jesus fits in to my life, knowing He brings the promises of lasting joy and eternal life. It is important I remember that in Jesus’s sense of timing waiting isn’t slow; it’s the fastest way to reach what or who is most important. And while I celebrate that Jesus is coming during Advent, perhaps more importantly is the reminder this Gaudete Sunday that He is near; He is always near. Let us rejoice and be glad.

Each life is made up of mistakes and learning, waiting and growing, practicing patience and being persistent.
— BILLY GRAHAM

Imagine waiting for a table at a restaurant and you have one of those devices that buzz when your table is ready. Wouldn’t it be convenient if there were a buzz about three-quarters through your wait to let you know your table is near and the meal will be delicious? Wouldn’t it make the wait a little more tolerable because you didn’t have to wonder how much longer it was going to be?  And wouldn’t it be fun if there was a celebration in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, about three-quarters of the way through your wait, reminding you to rejoice-the doctor is near and he will renew you? While I don’t anticipate that happening, we can take and implement the doctor’s recommendations on diet, exercise, or lifestyle changes; not just for a month or so but all year long. Jesus asks the same of us, to take his Word and allow it to renew us all year through. And at those times when we are feeling most vulnerable, defeated, or hurt, we must remember something mightier is coming. The Lord is near.

Happy Gaudete Sunday, and have a blessed Advent.


CONTEMPLATION

  • What have you missed out on in your life because you couldn’t wait for it?

  • What challenges or struggles are you confronting where you need a reminder that the Lord is near?

  • How could you use the act of waiting to do something unexpected for someone else?


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Dan Burnett is an author, speaker, instructional designer, and founder of dANIMATED, LLC. He holds a degree in education and has 20 years of experience in workplace learning and performance. His passion rests in helping others use their God-given gifts to be the best they can be. Dan has worked for companies that are among the largest for-profit and not-for-profit organizations in southeastern Wisconsin. He is married and has two teenage children. You can read more of Dan’s blogs at https://danimatedonline.com/blog/