What are we waiting for?

Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; Psalm 85:8-13; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8

Rev'd Daniel Irvine

One of my Dad’s favourite singers was a man named Hank Williams, and although he died very young in 1951, I am sure that many of you might know of him.

As a child I grew up listening to Hank Williams, among other country artists, and many of his songs had an uncanny way of piercing into the heart of human nature.

Such is the case with the song titled “Just Waitin’” which says:

The old maid's waitin' for leap year to come The crooner's just waitin' to sing The old cow's standin' by the Bull Durham sign Just awaitin' for the grass to turn green

The bar-fly's waitin' for an easy mark An' the hitch-hiker's waitin' for a ride The life-termer's waitin' for a prison break The beachcomber's waitin' for the tide

Farmer's daughter's waitin' for the salesman To take her into town The city slicker's waitin' for the country boy To lay all his money down

You know everything comes to a standstill Nothin' seems to make a turn Worm must be waitin' for the early bird I guess the early bird's waitin' for the worm

Nobody wants to do nothin' Just waitin' to get a finger in the pie Waitin' for a call from a big quiz show Or hopin' and awaitin' for some rich uncle to die

Katy, she's waitin' at the garden gate The moonshiner's waitin' at the still An' the gambler's still waitin' for that ace in the hole I guess, Jack's still waitin' for Jill

Everybody's waitin' for somethin' Nothin' seems to turn out right 'Cause the night shift's waitin' for mornin' And the burglar just waitin' for night

The congregation's waitin' for the preacher Preacher just waitin' for the groom The groom's just waitin' for the June bride And the bride's just waitin' for June

Sunflowers waitin' for the sunshine Violets just waitin' for dew Bees just waitin' for honey And, honey, I'm just waitin' for you

I was reminded of this quaint old song this week as I was preparing for the communion service at the Southern Cross Nursing Home and reflecting on Advent as a season of waiting.

In our readings today we are also confronted with images of waiting.

Israel was just waiting to be comforted, in the midst of trouble and despair.

The Psalmist was waiting for the Lord’s righteousness to be fulfilled, and for God’s salvation to be known.

John the Baptist was waiting for the one to come, to usher in the messianic age, where wrongs will be righted and God’s kingdom will flourish.

The people who received the epistle attributed to Peter were waiting for the day of the Lord and the return of Christ, to complete their hopes that were kindled in the life of Jesus.

Beyond scripture we can safely say that most children are probably hoping and waiting for the school term to end (a lot of teachers might be hoping the same thing), and waiting impatiently for Christmas to come with the hope of Santa bringing all sorts of goodies.

I think that old Hank might have been right, “Everyone is waiting for something”... but do we know what it is that we are waiting for, and almost as importantly, what are we going to do while we wait?

Do we come to a standstill like events in the song or do we engage in some sort of action? And if so, then what?

I am sure that many of us are waiting desperately for this pandemic to end, to receive back our freedoms and to begin the process of recovery.

But how sure are we that instead of causing the problems economies and societies are currently facing like many would have us believe, that Covid has simply brought those pre-existing problems into greater focus and more clarity?

If we think that after a vaccine arrives that everything will be ok then I think that we are fooling ourselves.

Once a vaccine arrives the homeless won’t suddenly have shelter, nor the hungry food.

Once restrictions lift, the imbalance of wealth within our own society and around the world won’t suddenly correct itself and see resources distributed more justly.

Once we can pack our shops and malls without concern, the exploitation of the weak and vulnerable, of individuals and developing nations, even of this planet itself, won’t just suddenly stop.

Once we can gather and worship without considering numbers and spacing, or contact tracing, and sing without fear of micro-droplets it won’t mean that our waiting is over and everything can go back to how it was...

Because, by and large, how it was was simply not working.

Yes it was comfortable.

Yes it was easy.

But I am not sure how closely it reflected the kingdom of God, which, after all, is what the disciples of Jesus have been waiting for since he ascended into heaven and revealed the Holy Spirit as a living and active part of our lives and of all creation.

We’ve been shaken up by 2020 in so many ways, but perhaps that shaking has blown off the dust and rattled out the cobwebs of something more important.

Perhaps we’ve been given a unique chance to completely rethink and re-imagine what it means to be church, to gather as God’s people, to exist as God’s love in the world, to work as Christ’s body to establish God’s rule of love, justice and mercy, wherever, and however, we can.

Now I don’t claim to have the answers or to know what is best, there needs to be open, frank, honest but caring discussion around a lot of these issues, but I don’t think it can be achieved through legislation and restructuring, not on its own at any rate.

Because the growth of the kingdom, the mission of God, is not something that can be measured or counted, it is not dependent on how many people attend this particular church or give a particular amount of money.

It is something that touches lives and hearts and builds their relationship with God, and helps to establish a bridgehead for the kingdom, where communities are cared for, and individuals cherished.

It is not something that can be solved by a parish council, a diocesan council, a bishop, or even by a synod!

It is something that is going to need the total involvement and commitment from everyone within our faith communities, because it is our faith communities that exist within the wider community, where they can notice needs and work to meet them.

Now that might mean a difficult change in how we think and act but I am afraid that as long as individual churches are caught up worrying about how to raise enough money to pay a priest or to fix a building, then we are just not thinking about realising the kingdom.

It is a difficult thought to consider but we are a resurrection people, but in order for there to be resurrection to new life, something old has to die first.

In the end we need to stop and reflect on just what it is that we are waiting for, and just like Thursday’s gospel reading at Oakfield, where we are making our foundations to build for the future: the rock that is Christ, or something prettier but much less solid.

...More than one stunning beachfront house has felt the force of nature crumble its sandy foundations to bring it crashing down.

I started this morning with a song from my Dad, I will finish with a scripture quote that he wrote in a gifted prayer book to me and which is sometimes harder to do than to say, but is one which we ought all to live our lives by, both individually and collectively, day by day:

He reminded me to “Seek first the kingdom of God and God's righteousness, and all things will be added to you.”

Let us pray that in all we think, say and do, that we may always strive to seek and to realise the kingdom of God built on the strong foundations of love, justice and mercy, regardless of how narrow the gate, or uncomfortable and difficult the road.

In Jesus’ Name we pray.


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