Pastor Chris Tweitmann
Waiting is hard.
In today’s world of instant gratification – of fast food, express service, speed dating, instant credit, immediate, and online banking, having to wait feels a lot like doing nothing – like a waste of our time.
In our “on-demand,” Amazon Prime society where everything happens at the push of a button, we’ve come to believe we shouldn’t have to wait anymore for the good things in life.
And yet, try as we may, as increasingly impatient as we’re becoming, waiting is a part of life. In one sense, all of life is one long wait.
Waiting to grow up. Waiting to leave home. Waiting to finish school.
If we’re so inclined, waiting to get married. Waiting to have children. Waiting for those children to grow up and get out.
Waiting for our first job. Waiting for to find our career. Waiting to be successful. Waiting until we can retire.
Waiting to feel better again. Waiting until it’s all over, and we leave this life for the next one.
Even in the smaller moments of our day-to-day lives, we find ourselves going through seasons, days, and hours of waiting.
Waiting for a call. Waiting for a pause or a break in the action. Waiting for our next meal. Waiting for the weekend, our next vacation.
And of course, always at this time of year, we are waiting for Christmas.
Waiting for gifts to be delivered. Waiting for guests or loved ones to arrive. Waiting to be able to go home for the holidays. Waiting to see what’s wrapped underneath the tree with our name on it.
Waiting was very much a part of the first Christmas too.
The coming of the promised Messiah, the Savior of Israel and by extension, the world, was an exercise in waiting for generations upon generations of faithful believers.
Being no less inclined to wait than we are, and yet like us, finding themselves with no other choice but to wait, all our spiritual ancestors could do was hold on – hold onto the threads of a promise that now and then was repeated through words of prophecy amid the otherwise yawning spaces of uncomfortable, divine silence.
Waiting is hard. Sometimes when all we have is waiting upon waiting, we can wonder, we might start to worry, if all our waiting is in vain.
If what we end up with, where we find ourselves on the other side of all that time, doesn’t live up to the hype – especially at this time of year.
But as the apostle Paul is about to make clear to us through this excerpt from his letter to the Galatians, we need not have any doubts that Christmas is always worth the wait. (TEXT)
That we can’t hardly wait for Christmas to come each year, that we lack patience in allowing December 25th to arrive on its own, is witnessed in the growing trend of people
who start decorating their homes, listening to Christmas music, and even beginning to celebrate before the Thanksgiving holiday has come and gone.
But imagine having to wait for Christmas for a much longer period than four weeks or a couple of months.
What if instead of counting down the days or weeks, we had to count down by centuries or several thousand years?
Because this was the sort of timeline those who waited for the first Christmas to arrive had to occupy.
Let us briefly mark all the time that had to pass before a baby was born in Bethlehem.
After an indeterminate number of years from the creation of the world, the ball starting rolling as God initiated a relationship with a Middle Eastern nomad named Abram.
God eventually changed Abram’s name to Abraham as the Lord chose Abraham and his descendants to be the seedbed for a promise planted way back in the beginning in a garden named Eden – the first promise of Christmas’ coming through the arrival of a future heir of humanity’s salvation.
After that, for the next 600 or so years, not much seemingly happened to move the arrival of the first Christmas any closer.
The children of Abraham were many, but they also were messy.
Through their relationships with each other – let alone with outsiders to their family, they were hardly a blessing.
In fact, after generations upon generations multiplied in Egypt, Abraham’s descendants came to be viewed as a threat to Pharaoh – and thus became an enslaved people for a long, long time.
And it wasn’t until four centuries later that a man named Moses, a formerly adopted son of Pharaoh, who later tried to run as far away from Egypt as he could, ended up right back in the last place he wanted to be, as Moses became God’s chosen deliverer for guiding the children of Abraham out of slavery, through the wilderness, and into the Promised Land.
Near the end of Moses’ days, the Lord spoke through him and repeated the promise of Christmas’ coming – the future arrival of someone even greater than Moses to lead the people not just into a new land but into a new life – the life God had always intended for all creation.
Through the years after Moses, God raised up many judges, priests, prophets, and even kings, but none proved to be the One whose coming had been foretold.
And so the waiting continued as centuries upon centuries passed – centuries upon centuries of greed and gluttony, violence and oppression, and all along the way, war – continuous attacks waged by rival empires.
Attacks that exposed the deeper battle and fault lines within – within the country, the children of Abraham who had become Israel until the nation split in two.
Eventually, the divided nation of the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel both fell into exile and faced the threat of possible extinction as a people.
During these dark days as everyone began to lose hope, God raised up prophets like Isaiah, who continually reminded the children of Abraham and Moses, of His promise of redemption, – of the One who had yet to arrive to make all things right and new of the One who became known, who began to be called the Messiah.
A long, long winter of God’s prolonged silence soon followed.
As the land and people of Israel traded hands between global superpowers until they finally ended up under the thumb of the rule of Rome, the people, with only the lingering memory of that divine pledge to hold onto, the people continued to wait, because waiting was all they could do.
Then, finally, one unexpected day, much, much, much later, an angel named Gabriel first paid a visit to an aging priest named Zechariah in the Temple and then to a young, betrothed but yet unmarried girl named Mary in her home and in both conversations declared God’s covenant with the people was about to be fulfilled.
Now I don’t about you, but that sure seems like quite a bit of calendar space between God’s giving of His promise and its eventual fulfillment.
It certainly amounts to a lot more waiting than the nine months of a pregnancy which typically marks our telling of the Christmas story.
And yet when Paul writes to the Galatians, he underscores while it may have seemed like a long time in coming, the birth of Jesus arrived exactly when it was intended to
“But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son…” – Galatians 4:4
– “when the set time had fully come,” or as some translations read “in the fullness of time.”
In other words, what we celebrate this season of the year wasn’t some random, spontaneous realization of what God had promised.
No, the dawn of what we know as Christmas happened right on time – exactly when our Creator intended for it to occur.
This, of course, also means while the people spent all that time waiting, while they probably occasionally felt like nothing was happening, God was working behind the scenes.
Even though the people couldn’t see it and even when the Lord was, for long stretches, silent, God, nonetheless, remained on the move – laboring in and through the real choices humanity was exercising along with the typically bad consequences that soon followed.
God was laboring to orchestrate the fulfillment of what He had always promised.
Paul’s emphasis on the fullness of time further suggests prior to Christmas happening, the world was not yet ready.
We as humankind were not ready for Christ to be born.
Therefore, looking back in hindsight, what can we perceive about how the Lord was working to prepare the world – us – for the very first Christmas, for the coming of our salvation?
To begin with, in our rebellion – in choosing to go our own way – away from our Creator, we needed time to discover and learn how to be – well – human again.
Human in the sense of how we were originally created to be rather than the broken and flawed humanity we choose to settle for as we kept trying to do everything on our own – apart from God.
This is the crux of Paul’s argument to the Galatians leading up to today’s passage.
In chapter 3 of this letter, Paul declares God gave us the Law – the Ten Commandments, our Creator’s Top Ten instructions for living, to simultaneously reveal the way life was meant to be; but also, in so doing, to reveal how far short we fall from living life that way – the way it’s supposed to be.
As mentioned last Sunday, God’s Top Ten, on the one hand, inspires us to aim higher in living our best life – rather than to settle for less – for less than for which we are created.
But at the same time, God’s Top Ten humbles us, bringing us down to earth – in realizing we can’t live our best life – life the way it was intended to be – apart from our Creator.
Paul’s argument is we first received the Law, God’s Top Ten, not in order to prove ourselves or to make things right through what WE CAN DO FOR GOD.
The Law, God’s Top Ten, convicts us in our need for divine intervention – for what only our Creator CAN DO FOR US and in so doing, enables us to recognize the One who comes to be our Savior, our true Messiah.
That the world’s one true Messiah can only be God come down in the flesh.
That our one true Messiah can only be Jesus Christ, the One who is perfect – perfect both in not breaking the Law and in fulfilling the Law completely – in reflecting through
the character of His words and deeds what it means, what it looks like to be human – again, humanity as God created us to be.
But we can see the fingerprints of our Creator’s preparation for Christmas beyond the Law’s reeducation of the nature and character of our humanity.
Looking back, we can’t help but notice God also working through the cultural and technical conditions of human history to lay the best foundation for the news and message of Christmas to be spread far and wide.
Prior to the rise of the Roman Empire, the Greeks had unified the known world culturally – specifically instituting a central language that could be spoken throughout its dominion.
Created as a means of globalizing trade, the formation of this common language made it possible for different tribes of people to communicate with each other.
Later, when the Romans came to power, they further unified an expanding world by constructing roads that connected various lands to one another.
These highways that lined the Roman empire – so well built that some of them still exist today, these highways enabled a freedom of commerce and travel at a rate and distance that previously had been impossible.
Having a language that enabled the known world to hear a message and a growing network of roads that made traveling long distances and sharing that message possible, the historical and cultural stage was set for the coming of the first Christmas, the good news of the Gospel.
Looking back, as all creation held its breath all that time with great expectation, and as humanity prayed and cried out “How long, O Lord? How long?” for what seemed like forever, the unspoken question is “Was it all worth it? Is Christmas worth the wait?”
And the apostle Paul emphatically provides us with the answer as he carefully outlines exactly what we receive at Christmastime.
Of course, to appreciate what we are given on that first Christmas, we need to fully understand what we first lost – what we gave up – when humankind turned its back on its Creator.
We’ve all likely heard the expression, “You can pick your friends but you are stuck with your family.”
Without our say, without picking and choosing our parents or relatives, we are born into our families.
While we may refuse to acknowledge our family or even deny where we come from, we cannot alter our DNA.
This truth applies not only to our immediate family but also to our extended family – and by extended family, I mean we are all born, we are all part, like it or not, the family of the human race.
And part of what the Bible wants us to understand, something we can see even if we go beyond the pages of scripture, is the human race is a dysfunctional family.
While we exhibit flashes and moments of positive potential now and then, overall our history is one of hurting ourselves and hurting each other.
In fact, in the next chapter of this letter, chapter 5, Paul describes our default family dynamic as human beings – debauchery; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy; drunkenness, and the like.
Beloved, we are, and we remain a dysfunctional family because as Paul writes, even though we were created to be “heirs” – children of God we, through our rejection and disobedience have orphaned ourselves from our Heavenly Father.
We have exchanged the freedom of belonging for the slavery of being bound, from serving what Paul calls
“…we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world.” – Galatians 4:3
“the elemental spiritual forces of the world.”
In other words, our self-imposed enslavement comes from worshipping what is created rather than our Creator.
From trying to find and secure our identity, our purpose, and our destiny through what we create – what we earn, accomplish, or achieve – even though none of it can bear the weight of eternity and all of it crumbles into oblivion once we die.
Instead of maturing in our humanity and inheriting the freedom that comes from everlasting life for which we were made, we remain stunted in our growth, childishly enslaved to
the pursuit of doing enough, of having enough, of being enough, but never quite being able to close that loop.
Into this vicious cycle of every man or woman for themselves, in desperately seeking to justify our existence, to prove our worth, and to secure some sense, any sense of permanence, – by comparing ourselves with each other even as we believe we have no choice but to compete against each other and thus, constantly living in fear and insecurity
that we mask through arrogant pride or false humility, into this vicious cycle that we know all too well, our Creator lays the groundwork of our redemption.
God keeps maneuvering around the chaos that erupts from our continued willful disobedience.
Until finally all is ready and our Heavenly Father paves the road for us to come back home.
Beloved, we can’t choose our family – and we belong to the family of God. Even though we may not choose God. God chooses us and will not let us go.
Our Creator, our God, our Heavenly Father offers a way to come back into the family by coming down to us, by running to where we are, by becoming the way, the truth, and the life that we need in the person of the Son, Jesus Christ.
As Paul continues to unwrap what we have received, he moves all the way from Christmas, the birth of Christ to our birth in Christ on the day of Pentecost,
“But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons and daughters, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” – Galatians 4:4 – 6
when our adoption back into the family we had once forsaken was made complete as we were given the ultimate manifestation of the gift of Christmas, more than the Word made flesh but the Holy Spirit, the Spirt of Jesus taking up residence in our flesh.
Truly Emmanuel – God with us, for us, and in us.
The same Spirit by which Mary birthed Jesus into this world is given to us to birth our new life, our true family in Christ – a life and a family no longer broken by dysfunction, fear and slavery because of sin, evil, and death but an everlasting life and a forever family rising up in freedom and reaching out in faith, hope, and love.
Beloved, should ever wonder if Christmas is worth the wait, the answer is always a resounding “Yes!”
One of the most moving and powerful takeaways from our annual celebration of Christmas is the truth and the encouragement that while we are waiting, God is working.
The Lord is never sitting on His hands and simply taking His time to accomplish what He promises.
No, just as He did in bringing about the first Christmas, our Heavenly Father is tirelessly laboring – constantly working through and sometimes even around the mistakes we make, our foolish choices, and even our willful disobedience.
Listen to the way Paul talks about God’s initiative & exertion on our behalf.
“The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.” – Galatians 4:2 – 5
It wasn’t that we were doing such a great a job moving forward. It wasn’t that we cleaned ourselves up and made ourselves ready – that we were finally good enough, that we at last had our act together, so that our salvation became possible and the Messiah could come.
No, Christmas is the witness of how God always makes the first move – and that move, while it seems like a long time in coming, that move reflects not some knee-jerk, impulsive divine reaction but considerable, intentional, and gracious divine planning and preparation again, for our sake.
Not because our Creator is too busy or is running a little bit late; but because we’re not ready. Because we need more time.
In the silence of what often feels like God is doing nothing, God is preparing us – preparing us in ways we don’t often appreciate until we look back – preparing us for what He is about to do for us – in us and through us.
As we survey the story of the Bible, this is God’s calling card – never just giving us answers but carefully preparing us, intentionally leading and shaping us to be able to receive – to recognize, to appreciate, to internalize, and to live out of the answers we are given – answers that are often not what we asked for, what we wanted, but as we come to learn, answers that are exactly what we needed, what is best for us.
And so, the question isn’t whether or not we’re going to wait in life; the question is how we are going to wait.
Waiting is the universal human condition because, whether, we admit it or not, our lives revolve around our Creator – God’s will – God’s intentions and purposes for us – and not our own.
And make no mistake, we’re still waiting.
Even though the Kingdom of God is breaking into and beginning to change our world, even though the Son has come down to us and has been raised up from death to resurrection, even though we see the Light of the World, the Light the darkness cannot overcome, on the horizon, the dawn of a new creation is not yet complete.
While, thanks to Jesus’ first coming, there is forgiveness to receive, goodness to share, beauty to behold, and truth to claim, such blessings exist alongside the temptations and wounds of ego and pride, jealousy and envy, bitterness and wrath, rumors and lies.
We remain in the transitional space between the very first Christmas, the birth of divine love, peace, and justice in this world, the full maturity of these and many other divine gifts that have yet to come until the last Christmas when Christ shall return once and for all.
Knowing God’s timeline and trusting God’s timeline are not the same thing.
Contrary to the countless and continuing attempts of prognosticators, we don’t and we won’t know the hour or the day of Christ’s return.
All we can do – like our spiritual ancestors – is wait.
We are all waiting for God to give us something we need – something to born anew in our lives through the Spirit of Christ within.
Waiting for a bit of inspiration and direction.
Waiting for some encouragement, some wisdom.
Waiting for a little peace and rest.
Waiting for things to get better – to be reconciled, to be healed.
And waiting can be hard – especially when we wait with uncertainty.
When we worry if what we’re waiting for will ever happen, sometimes we wonder if it’s even worth waiting at all.
As the days turn into weeks and weeks turn into months and months turn into years, and nothing appears to change for the better, it can be tempting to give into disappointment
rather than to keep looking for fulfillment.
We can learn to settle for what we have rather than waiting for God, in His timing, to provide something more.
But the Gospel, the good news of Christmas is that we do not wait without hope.
For the season of Advent serves to remind us, to reinforce that our waiting on the Lord is never in vain, that our Creator is forever working on our behalf, that our Heavenly Father always makes good on His promises to us, that we look to and worship the God of perfect timing.
In all our waiting, may our anticipation of the birth of Jesus center us in trusting that the Lord is indeed with and for us.
Though our life circumstances may suggest otherwise, let us not give up waiting before the time is right.
May the reality of God’s coming down to us in Christ assure us that our Heavenly Father is working for our good – that the Lord will come through, on schedule, fulfilling His promises to us all.
And this is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God!