What are you waiting for?

Matthew 24:36-44    What are You Waiting For?     November 28, 2010 Advent 1
This time of year reminds me of something like a rock concert.  Halloween and Thanksgiving are like the opening acts; we have to be polite enough to let them have their place on the center stage, but their main purpose is to get us in the right frame of mind for what’s coming next!
Sure, Halloween and Thanksgiving have a lot of devoted fans who turn out to celebrate, but for the most part, we know that Christmas is the main attraction.
It’s like we’re just biding our time until December 25th.
And of course, the Friday after Thanksgiving is the first day that we can safely tear off the masks of patience we’ve been wearing and start shopping towards Christmas with all of our attention.
So every year, I’ve come to expect grisly news on Black Friday.  I’ve come to expect hearing about people getting trampelled in a stampede of consumption on Friday morning.  I’ve come to expect hearing about death threats made in lines for the newest toy, or even about loss of life over a television set.  That just seems to be  how our world is anymore.
This year the surprise for me was hearing about a Wal Mart in California where police evacuated the store and gave everyone a ‘time out’ until they could cool down enough to safely complete their shopping.  It surprised me because I didn’t know anyone would ever stop people from shopping for any reason in our country!
Black Friday brings out the worst side of human nature and displays it for the world to see.  It’s like, with Halloween and Thanksgiving finally out of the way, Black Friday symbolizes that the countdown to Christmas has finally begun.
Well, this waiting for Christmas isn’t just in the shopping malls.
It’s something we do in church, too (though hopefully more patiently).
Today is the first Sunday of Advent.
It’s the time of year when we train ourselves against the worst side of Black Friday.
I invite the children (and all others who want to) to come up front for this illustration.
I have two bags full of balloons up here.
And I have a pin.  🙂
So in one hand I have a nice, big, full balloon that looks like it’s almost ready to pop.
And in this other hand, I have a really sharp pin.
(how close do you think I can get with the pin before the balloon pops?)
What are you waiting for?

When we know a balloon is going to pop, we wait differently than we do for other things.  In fact, it’s hard to focus on anything but the balloon when we see a sharp pin going towards it.  I bet nobody was bored just a second ago, or thinking about what you were going to do after church.  You were waiting for the balloon to pop.
That’s the kind of waiting we do during Advent.
Well, really it’s the kind of waiting we do all year, but Advent reminds us that it’s easy to get distracted during the rest of the year.
We’re not waiting for a balloon to pop, but we’re waiting with that same focus, for the kingdom of God to grow!
Now (grab a balloon with tape on it), that kingdom started to come when Jesus was born, and that’s why Advent includes Christmas–but Advent has to do with a lot more than just the baby Jesus.
It also has to do with the church, and the end of the age, and the time when the whole world will be re-made into the world God always imagined.
That’s the basic question Jesus was answering in the passage for today.
The disciples were waiting for a balloon to pop.
See, the religious leaders had been blowing up this big balloon that had to do with how people could and couldn’t relate to God (write “Law” on the balloon).
The people in that area were also occupied and oppressed by the Roman empire (write “Rome” on the balloon).
If that wasn’t enough, there was the crushing weight of Sin that everyone was carrying around with them.  (write “Sin” on the balloon).
See, the disciples were following Jesus partly because he called them, and partly because they believed he was the messiah who they were waiting for–the guy who was going to pop this balloon.
They came to him and basically asked him “Teacher, when are you going to pop the balloon?!”
“What’s the sign going to be, Jesus?”
See, the disciples were expecting the kingdom of God to come, so they were waiting for a messiah to take a pin and pop this balloon just like they expected it to happen.
But what happened was something they didn’t expect.
He did pierce Rome, but in the process he pierced all of the earthly kingdoms that will ever be.
But it didn’t stop there.  He pierced the Law, too.  He showed the world that God is approachable and personable; not just a system of laws and consequences.
He also pierced our Sin and the world’s evil, so that we don’t have to do bad things to each other anymore.
That means we don’t have to trample people to get what we want when we go shopping, because we believe there’s already enough for everybody when we follow Jesus.
He conquered death and all that leads to it.
But he did it differently than anyone could expect.  (push the pin through the tape)
At first it seemed like nothing changed at all.  He was crucified and buried just like anyone who challenged the powers that be.
(take the pin out)
But in the resurrection we got the proof we needed to see that what He did Matters with a capital “M”!
(you can go back to your seats).
That’s the kind of thing we’re waiting for during Advent.
It’s not just the birth of Christ; it’s the birth of a whole new world.
While we wait, we prepare ourselves for that new world by living as if it already existed, you see?  That’s where the church comes in.

Our lives are shaped by what we wait for.  Whether it’s as simple as waiting for a balloon to pop, or as complex as world peace; what we wait for shapes us!
So what are you waiting for?  Is it Christmas morning?  Presents under the tree, good deals on Black Friday?
Or is it more substantial?
In Egypt, the Hebrew people waited for liberation; they waited to be freed from the land of slavery.
After that, they waited in the wilderness, for a place to call home.
They did become a nation, but that nation fell and they waited in exile.
Again they waited for freedom.
Do you see the pattern?
The nations rage, the people move from slavery to wilderness to something like home, back to wilderness, back to something very much like slavery…
The way the world works, there’s always a bigger kid on the block, you know?
There’s always someone to fear, someone with a bigger stick, a stronger arm.
Is it any wonder Isaiah longs for the day when the nations will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks?
Is it any wonder the prophets wait for the day when we will learn war no more?
See, when Jesus pierced Rome, when he Pierced our sin on the cross, it meant more than just liberation for that people at that time.
What Jesus did was bring a different kind of waiting to all who believe in Him, for all generations!
Because of Jesus, We live in anticipation of a future that is not to be feared!
That’s the message of Advent; to live as if that future is already here!
And as we wait, the character of our lives is shaped by the One for whom we wait!
That’s the advent message; the same message Jesus gave his disciples in the passage that was read this morning.
“Be Ready”.  “Keep awake!  for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.  But if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.
Therefore be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour” and, I might add, in an unexpected way.
Someone once observed that people tend to make out of life pretty much what they make out of Christmas.  Whether or not that’s true isn’t for me to say.
But if Christmas means little more than a break from job or school, a boost for the economy, entertainment for the children, and an endorsement of the American Dream, then once life returns to normal it will probably amount to little more.
If, however, Christmas is perceived as the radical entrance of one who literally wants to change the way the world thinks, operates, and perceives reality, then life in the ensuing meantime is more likely to follow that pattern.
Our lives are about our expectations, and our God is about surprises.
He comes at unexpected times, offering an unexpected salvation and a future of surprise.
It’s how God has always been and will always continue to be in our world.
This is our hope and our salvation; that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16)  So, What (or Who) are you waiting for?

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