Sunday, November 29, 2009

waiting for the marriage

Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

A few days ago I stumbled upon this weird talk radio show in my car. And it was one of those shows featuring a love guru that fields questions from America’s most pathetic people and then offers them advice in the ways of love. And so I stumbled upon this show, which really means I tune in every Tuesday at 5. Just kidding. Anyway, this anxious woman calls the love guru because she really wants to marry this guy. And according to her, this guy promised they’d get married one day. But here’s her problem. There’s no wedding date – just a promise. And God bless this anxious woman, she is sick of waiting. And so she called the love guru with a question – “I want this wedding to happen. I want it to happen soon. How can I speed up the process and make him marry me now?” Well the love guru, in her infinite wisdom, gave some pretty good advice, and so tonight I thought I’d pass it on. Are you ready for the words of the great love guru? “I don’t think you’re ready to get married yet. You will be when the time comes, but you need to wait. Be patient. He promised you a wedding. And you love this person. You trust this person. There will be a wedding. And so be patient. And wait.”

Now, with that in mind, think of tonight’s reading from 1 Thessalonians. The Thessalonians are kind of like that anxious woman and Paul – well, he’s the love guru. You see, the Thessalonians are anxious because they too are waiting for good to be made on a promise. A promise that Jesus will return, for that day when Jesus restores his fallen earth and makes right all that’s gone wrong. And as they wait, the church gets impatient and anxious as a question arises in their midst. Why do we still have to wait?

Now, before moving on, we need to understand something about how the bible talks about Jesus’ return. According to the Bible, when Jesus comes back, it’s going to be like a wedding – the celebration of a marriage. Jesus is the husband, or the bridegroom and we, the ones who wait for Jesus, are the anxious bride to be.

For example, consider Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians. “I promised you in marriage to one husband so that on the day of the Lord I can present you as a chaste virgin to Christ” (2 Cor 1:2). Or consider John the Baptist, who tells his students that Jesus is like a bridegroom that is searching for his bride (John 3:29). Or the book of Revelation, which envisions Jesus’ return by saying, “Let us rejoice, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.” And of course, as college students, I know you’re all huge fans of Jesus’ first miracle – the transformation of eighty gallons of water into eighty gallons of booze. But does anyone remember where that happens? At a wedding.

Now, with that in mind, let’s go back to Paul, who writes 1 Thessalonians as advice to the anxious woman we call the church. And historically speaking, the church Paul writes to seems racked by the following question. “We know that Jesus is coming back. We know that, because we believe, Jesus’ return is good news. What we don’t know is why the delay? We want this wedding to happen and we want it to happen now. Why do we still have to wait?” And here’s how Paul responds to their anxiety. “May the Lord make you increase in your love for each other and may your heart be strengthened in holiness so that when Jesus returns you may be blameless.” In other words, Paul tells them that God has a purpose in making them wait. To foster love for one another. To create holiness in their lives. To refine their character to such an extent that they become blameless before God.

Now, we don’t like to wait. We live in a horn honking, express-lane shopping, high-speed Internet kind of world that, to be honest, doesn’t teach us a whole lot about patience. All else being equal, we’ve been conditioned to believe that not waiting is better than waiting and let’s be honest – we don’t like to wait. For anything.

And so when it comes to God, and to the mystery of life, we naturally wonder – why do we have to do it? Why doesn’t God just fix things now? And if God is here, why doesn’t he just show himself? And if God truly desires to abolish sickness and death, why doesn’t He just cure cancer now or end violence now? In other words, if we really believe that Jesus is coming, and that when He does He’ll fix what is broken and will right what is wrong, why not do it now? Why do we have to wait?

Today, on this first Sunday of Advent, we are reminded that waiting is at the heart of the Christian story. Think of Abraham, who was promised a son and had to wait twenty-four years for that son to be born. Or the Hebrew people, who waited four hundred years to be freed from Egyptian slavery, not to mention the additional forty years of waiting in the desert that would follow. For centuries Israel waited for her Messiah to arrive, but even with Jesus the waiting did not end. The church was told to wait for the promised Holy Spirit. In fact, in the eighth chapter of Romans Paul himself writes, We ourselves groan inwardly while we wait for adoption,” which is his way of saying that he’s waiting for the wedding – for that day when Jesus comes back and restores all things. To be a Christian is to actively wait for God. And there is a reason God makes us do it. To make us loving. To make us holy. To make us blameless. To get us ready for the marriage.

And so here’s the question I leave us with. Have we learned to actively wait on God? Are we soaking ourselves in the Scriptures and allowing God’s living word to comfort us and disturb us and change us and renew us? Are we taking the time – every single day – to place ourselves before Jesus in the hope that he’ll make us loving, that he’ll make us holy, that he’ll make us blameless.

You see, every time we pray or read scripture or sit in contemplative silence, we wait on God. Every time we feed the poor, befriend the friendless, or greet the stranger, we wait on God. Every time we refrain from judging, show others mercy, or have the courage to share our faith, we wait on God. And we do these things, not as an end in themselves, but to give the Spirit room to purify our hearts, to refine our character, to make us ready for the marriage.

You see, at the end of the day, we really don’t know when we’ll meet Jesus – maybe tomorrow, maybe when we die, maybe at the end of the age. But what we do know is that we will, and that all of creation is moving and pointing and groaning to that glorious day when the bridegroom finally returns to claim his bride. And it will be a glorious day for Christ’s church – a day of intimacy and fulfillment and restoration.

But for whatever reason, I’m not sure we’re ready. In God’s sovereign wisdom, the bridegroom is delayed and the creation continues to groan. And so today we’re reminded that as a church our call is to wait – not passively but actively. And as we soak ourselves in the scriptures, and in prayer, and in being intentional about loving the people that God places in our lives, we find ourselves preparing. We find Jesus moving, slowly but surely, into every aspect of our world and into every aspect of our lives. As we wait, we find ourselves preparing – our hearts and our world – for the marriage of heaven and earth, of God and humanity, of Christ and His Church.

For a lot of us, I know the question is still there. If God intends to put an end to death, injustice, and cruelty – why not just do it now? I don’t have a great answer to that question. But I do know that God does. And that it’s a good answer. And I know that it matters greatly how we live as wait for that answer.

You see, we might not know the wedding date. But we do have a promise. And so wait. Be patient. Jesus promised us a wedding. And we love Jesus. We trust Jesus. And so be patient. And wait.