Friday, December 7, 2012

The In-Between Time is the Hardest Part: Thoughts on Advent 3

Advent is a time of waiting and watching, looking and listening. It's a time for patience, a test of endurance. It's a time where we rehearse in the Church Year what we experience in our daily lives: patient endurance as we wait for the Lord to come and fulfill His promises.

Our lives are shaped by what we wait for. It forms part of who we are. Consider the single woman who waits and longs to be married, fearful that she'll be left alone. Or the elderly man, feeling abandoned and alone, who lies in a nursing home, waiting and longing to be "home." Or the parents who sit a the hospital bedside of their son, awaiting news from doctors, test results from labs, and answers to their questions. The time we spend waiting--for the phone to ring, the plane to land, the letter to arrive, the check to come--waiting for the grades to come in, for family to arrive home--waiting to see, to hear, to know is the hardest for us. This in-between time, the time being is what we struggle with most because it reveals that we are not in control. It shows us our uncertainty, our insecurity, and how alone we feel because of it.

And this fear of being alone petrifies us. It drives us to noise and crowds. We keep up a constant stream of words even if they're inane. We turn to Facebook and Twitter to feel connected; we buy iPods and earbuds so that if no one else is around at least we're not condemned to silence. We are shaped and molded by what we wait for.

John the Baptist is no different. He is in prison. Day and night, he is alone in silence. In his cool, damp, and dark cell, all he has are his thoughts, his memories. And so he waits. He lives in the time being. He dwells in the meantime, the in-between time. What is he waiting for? He is waiting for the Christ. He is waiting for Jesus to fulfill His Words.

John knows that Jesus is the Christ. He declared it himself, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." He leaped in his mother Elizabeth's womb when the mother of God, the pregnant Blessed Virgin Mary, came to visit. He saw the Holy Spirit descend in the form of a dove and heard the Father's voice "This is My Beloved Son," at Jesus' baptism.

But John also knew the prophesies. He knew that when the Christ would come the blind would see, the lame would walk, the deaf would hear, the lepers would be cleansed, the dead would be raised, and those in prison would be set free. And he has seen and heard them all fulfilled, save one. For he is not free. He remains in prison. And so he waits. He watches. He looks and listens, for he knows that while the grass withers and the flower fades, the Word of the Lord endures forever.

And then he asks. "Are you the coming one or do we wait for another?" It is as if John said, "I know what you have done. I know that the prophecies are being fulfilled. I have heard and seen that the blind do see, the deaf do hear, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the dead are raised. But then, why Lord, am I still in prison? How long until you fulfill your Word and make good on your promise to me? When will I be free? So are you the coming one or what? I am waiting for you but what are you waiting for? Have you forgotten about me?"

And Jesus says, "Tell John what you see and hear." It is as if He said, "My Word, My promises will not pass away. They are sure and certain. And So your warfare is ended. Your iniquity is pardoned. You are already free, John. For the Son has set you free. By my stripes, you are healed. By my death, you have life. By my punishment, you are set free. For the Son of God the Father will take the place of Barabbas, which means Son of the Father. So you are free indeed: Freed from sin, from death, from temptation--the power of the devil. Your waiting is not in vain. Your present suffering is not to be compared with the glory to be revealed in you. Be patient. Endure. I have not forgotten. I have not abandoned you. It is for your sake that I have come. This is sufficient. This is enough. Because by this, it is finished."

The Lord has not forgotten about you either. He knows that you wait. He knows that you patiently endure. He sees how dark and dreary, cold and damp it is. He sees your sadness and knows your heartache. He understands your fears and feels your loneliness. He hears your prayers and listens to your cries. And He is not silent. He answers. But to hear it you must be silent. You must listen and look. You must wait and watch.

For the heavens and the earth will pass away, but the Lord's Word will never pass away. The grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of the Lord endures forever. Look to the Word incarnate. Listen to His voice and hear His promises. Watch for the one who comes in the Name of the Lord, who  comes in His Body and Blood. He comes to comfort you amid sadness, to take away your sins, cleanse your conscience, and assuage your hearts and fears. And while there is much that remains uncertain and insecure, the Word of the Lord is sure and certain. He will not leave you as orphans. He is steadfast. He is with you. And He will bring you home, make you free, and fulfill His Word once and for all, just as He did for John then.

Wait for Him. Wait in Him. And even though this is difficult, it is what we wait for that forms us. So let your in-between time be formed by the One who comes to fulfill His promises. Let your meantime be formed by the One who puts His Name upon you in water and Word. Let your time being be formed by the One who comes even now to give you a foretaste of what is yet to come. For that is who you really are. You are in Christ, and where He is there you shall be also, just as He promised.

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