“Therefore, the Lord will give you a sign. The young woman is pregnant and is about to give birth to a son, and she will name him Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14-15
It’s a familiar prophecy, echoed in Matthew’s Gospel with “young woman” being translated as “virgin.” Part of our story of faith from its very beginnings is the dynamic of waiting… waiting for hopes to be realized, for God’s justice to become our reality, for our lives to be changed for the better. From Abraham to the longing for the Messiah to the hopes that are held in the possibility of Heaven or the Second coming, people are waiting. But waiting can become exhausting.
Main Street is finally open, and the stoplight in town is working again, AND we have a paved parking lot at church again! I can’t begin to tell you how exhausting it was, waiting for these simple improvements; how fearful I was in these last weeks that we might not receive asphalt before the plants shut down for winter. I was so relieved to see ribbons of parking lot laid across our gravel lot… it was a moment of peering out the church office windows muttering Hallelujahs! And then it was done. It’s a funny thing when a road is opened and a parking lot becomes useable that it returns to just being the way that we expect it to be. How different that kind of waiting is from waiting for the birth of a child, or the change of a life. When a baby is born there is nothing that is finished except for the pregnancy. Indeed, the work of parenting and letting your life be changed forever has only just begun. To look at any young parent it is abundantly clear that there is no “ho hum” sense of accomplishment laid to rest to be found anywhere. In the same way, when we encounter people who are trying to grow into more fully being the child that God has created them to be, there is no moment of enlightened arrival that we anticipate. Oh, we hear that the Buddha attained that kind of state, and we trust that Jesus mostly lived in that place, but for the rest of us I’m quite sure that God’s not done with us… and so we shouldn’t be either. The anticipation that comes around the holidays should be a reminder that we are on a journey of transformation that surprises and grows around us. We hear the story of Jesus’ birth as a counter narrative to that of the world at large. He was born into poverty, the opposite of all that seemed to matter in the world. Instead he offered a witness to love and centering our lives and our world in God and God’s ways. I’m still waiting for those changes to become mundane in my own life. I’m always aware that I’m becoming, and Jesus just keeps pushing me forward.
I was flipping through a Christmas catalogue that was lying on the lunch table and saw a Costco advertisement for a “Japanese Wagyu Boneless Ribeye Roast – 11 lbs. minimum, for $1,199.99 delivered after the $300 discount. Well, there’s one meal I won’t be having over the holidays. But its absurdity highlights the absurdity of much of how our holiday has evolved. A long-anticipated messiah came to re-center the world in a relationship with God that was unshackled from the power and wealth of the world, only to have it become another occasion to spend and spoil, to dream about the stuff of the world. Interesting how unlike Jesus that sounds. Compare that to what our own children told us last week in church when I asked them what was the most precious thing in the world and they all named things like: family, relationships, peace, compassion, love… none of them answered with things that could be bought. Of course they will hope for gifts beneath the tree, we all do. But I don’t think that is what most of us long for. Those gifts become quickly ho hum. This holiday season how do we instead nurture new life to be born among us? How do we welcome God’s life for us to change us for the better with each and every day? God invites us to be patient with the waiting but also to get busy living into it with all that we are. Give thanks, live thanks,