Purposeful Waiting

funny-pictures-auto-421780A couple of days ago there was a photo that made its way around the Internet. In this particular photo was a picture of a turkey having an intense conversation with Santa Claus. The turkey wanted to remind Santa that November was his month and that Santa would have to wait until December. This turkey was not interested anyone else grabbing the spotlight.

It was a funny photo, but think about how appropriate it is for us. We are approaching a very busy stretch run that takes us through the end of the year that already seems to be underway. The Holiday Sprint from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day where our calendars are filled and we have a long list of things to do. They say this is the “most wonderful time of the year,” and it is, but we’re often too busy to really enjoy these two months.

Truth be told, it is not just this sprint run until the end of the year where we find ourselves busy. We all live, in some way, constantly on the go. It seems our schedules are a 24-7 collection of moving from one thing to the next, with little breaks and more to do than can ever be accomplished. We are always going, always moving fast, and always trying to get things done.

It is no wonder that we live in a culture that finds waiting challenging. We are all guilty of trying to find the shortest line at the grocery store, because we do not want to wait. We do not like long stop lights when we are already late. We do not even like waiting on dinner to be ready. That is just daily life. Just imagine how much more so we struggle with waiting on bigger things such as medical tests to return, family members to come home, or a whole list of more important things.

We live in a fast-paced and impatient culture that does not value waiting and slowing down. The problem is that Jesus calls us to be a people who are waiting. We are constantly awaiting Christ’s return. If waiting does not come easily for us, then how much harder is it for us to wait on the return of our Lord which we have been anticipating for almost 2,000 years? We do not know how to wait, yet Jesus calls us to be such a people who live waiting.

So, how are we to do this? How are we to wait on Christ’s return? Our passage from Matthew 25:1-13 gives us an idea. As we look at this passage we see that waiting on Christ’s return is something more than what we are accustomed to. It is more than a passive act waiting for an event to happen. It is about a posture of waiting that has a purpose to it and prepares us for that day to come.

This is developed through the parable Matthew describes for us this morning. It is the second of four consecutive parables, beginning with Matthew 24:45 that teaches what it means to live in anticipation of Jesus’ return. Jesus speaks these parables as he continues to engage the leading religious leaders of the day, the Pharisees and Sadducees, about their understanding of Scripture and the role of the Messiah.

The parable Jesus gives us uses the analogy of a wedding. In Jesus’ time, a wedding was not what we are familiar with. A wedding was a week-long affair that included multiple celebrations, which includes the one that is depicted in this parable. Often was the case that bridesmaids or virgins would wait with the bride, likely at the bride’s house, for the bridegroom to come and take her to the wedding celebration. When the bridegroom arrived, it was the bridesmaids’ responsibility to light the pathway with these torches.

In our story, we have ten bridesmaids who were tasked with lighting the path from the brides home to the wedding celebration. We are told that five were prepared by bringing extra oil, while five brought along no extra oil for their lamps. The issue of extra oil is important, because the bridegroom was often delayed in arriving. It would have been advisable to consider that the bridegroom would be late and to make the appropriate provisions.

Jesus says that only five considered the possibility that the bridegroom might be delayed in arriving. The other five did not. When the bridegroom’s arrival was announced the five who were not prepared tried to get some of the oil from the others. They refused to give any perhaps knowing there would not be enough oil for all their lamps and the procession. The five unprepared bridesmaids are told to head to the store to find oil, which was a difficult task given the late hour and the fact that the entire community would join in the celebration. By the time they found some oil and returned it was too late. The bridegroom had come, the doors to the party was closed, and the bridegroom told the unprepared group that they were not known.

Through all of this, Jesus says this is a parable of God’s reign and a word for us in how to keep watch. What are we to make of this? The bridegroom in this parable is Jesus and the story is an analogy of Christ’s return where Jesus will come for his bride, which is the church. Matthew includes it to discuss how to live as Christ’s disciples in the midst of the anticipated delay in his return. When Matthew writes his gospel more than 30 years has passed since the Resurrection and many believed, then, that Jesus would have already return. Here we are some 2,000 years later and we still are waiting for the bridegroom to appear.

Our problem, today, is we do not know how to wait for Jesus’ arrival. The parable gives us some clues. It is Jesus’ words teaching us how to live in this interim period between the first and second arrivals. We are to live in hopeful anticipation of the Lord’s return. All of us who seek to follow Christ and call upon Jesus as both Lord and Savior are to be vigilant in anticipating Christ’s return. We are to live in a daily hope of the Lord’s return to claim the church as his bride and to have being united with our Lord as our deepest desire.

Waiting with a purpose, with anticipation, is something that is more about a way of life. It is a deeper way of life that is more than simply running out the clock and living with a distant knowledge that one day Christ will return. A knowledge that often times does not affect our daily lives. Jesus does not call us to live our lives by watching time pass by. Instead, Jesus calls us to an embrace active and purposeful waiting that calls us to a deeper way of living in anticipation of Christ’s return. We do so by connecting Matthew 25:1-13 with other passages, such as Matthew 7:21, and we see that waiting on Jesus’ return calls us to live daily in obedience to Jesus’ teaching.

All of us are called to wait on Christ’s return by being obedient to Jesus’ desires for us. We are called to prepare ourselves for Christ’s return by putting into practice the very essence of Jesus’ desires for us. Waiting for Jesus’ return isn’t about looking into the clouds for signs of Jesus’ imminent return. It is about making our lives count by being people who actively believe Christ’s words and that he will return. We are called to live in this waiting period by putting into practice the very things Jesus calls us to do as a people and as a church. We are called to wait for Jesus’ return by responding to our love of Christ by doing the things Jesus asks, such as loving our neighbor, caring for others, and sharing the love of Christ through words and actions.

It is those who are obedient to Jesus’ desires, those who put into practice what Jesus says, will be those who truly waited on Christ’s return. They will be the ones invited to the wedding celebration to feast at the banquet. Those who live their lives unprepared for the celebration who do not seek to follow in Christ’s footsteps are those who Jesus will claim not to know and will close the door on in experiencing the banquet to come.

Every one of us, through our prayers, gifts, presence, service, and witness, can wait on Christ by being obedient to his love. We are called to hear God’s voice speaking to us through prayer and our relationships with others in seeking what it means for us to be obedient to God. Together, however, we join our hearts and love as one waiting together through an active faith that lives in hopeful anticipation of Christ’s return trusting that one day Jesus will return. In the meantime, we will live in such a way that says what Jesus calls us to do is important and we will model our lives after the same obedience, empowered by the Holy Spirit, that Jesus gives to the Father.  We live with a purposeful waiting that has at the very core about us an anticipatory way of life.

Over these next few weeks, as we move closer to the Advent season, we’ll say more about what this idea of waiting truly looks like and how we are to live in this anticipation every day. Truly this is what the coming Advent season is all about. Advent reminds us to live in anticipation, through faithful obedience, as we celebrate the First Advent of Jesus birth and look forward to the Second of his return.

For now, Jesus calls us to wait in such a way that our lives are lived in obedience to his desires for us. May we await Christ’s return by being people, and a community of faith, who make this life count by living out our faith by doing the things Jesus calls us to do.

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