Mark 13: 24-37
Some of you will remember the game show “The $25,000 Pyramid hosted by Dick Clark. A celebrity guest was paired up with an ordinary contestant who hoped to win money on the show. Money would mostly be won by answering questions within a period of time. Here is an example of the clues: A Heinz Ketchup bottle; a baby to be born; a train, a red light. Okay constants! What is the answer? Yes! “Things you wait for.” Here’s another one: A pot to boil; Jesus’ return; a child out past curfew. What’s the answer? Yes! “Things you watch for!” Watching and waiting are two of the hardest things for many people to do, so certain facilities, such as hospitals and doctor’s offices, have rooms, with groups of people in them. The rooms are called: “waiting rooms!” In a waiting room I have seen people pace, sigh, study their phone, play games on their phone, read a book or magazine, walk back and forth to a coffee pot, bathroom, or vending machine and more, but just sitting and waiting few do well. We generally want to do be doing something. In the old days, a husband at a farmhouse was often told to go boil water while a doctor was tending to his wife about to deliver a child. It might have been slightly helpful, but mostly it gave the anxious father something to do! Here is what Mary Ann said when I asked her about the birth of our first child, Christopher.
October 2, 1980. The day was circled on the calendar. The day my first child would enter the world. Nine months of shopping, assembling, doctor appointments, growing larger – waiting!
I was going to work until the baby arrived. Everything was ready at the end of September. My good friend, Teri, was due to have her baby the week after mine and we rejoiced as we got ready and as we slowed down waiting for the impending births. October 2 I woke up with great expectation. Today is the day. The baby had other plans. I kept going to work. I kept answering the phone calls from relatives – “any news???”. I kept smiling as my neighbors and co-workers exclaimed, “You’re still here!!!” October 9 came and Teri had her baby. I visited her at the hospital feeling depressed and wondering when it would be my turn. More waiting. We lived in New Jersey and it got cold and none of my shoes or coats would fit. Still heading to work feeling like an elephant. More waiting. Frustration abounded. I’m sure I cried a few times. Finally, on October 22, I started feeling the labor pangs and we headed to the hospital. Christopher entered the world on the 23rd – a full three long weeks late. I can still feel that frustration that I felt during that time. It was totally worth the wait. Maybe I have learned some patience from that experience! A p.s. to the story – I didn’t have to wait as long for Matt and Jenny – they both came 9 days early!
Many find it difficult to wait and watch for anything! And on top of that, we have trouble just being, don’t we? We want to be doing. A man retires from a lifetime career. He is more attached than he realized to doing his job. Suddenly there is no job to do; at least not that job. Can he just be, resting in a job well done, retirement income, and time for things that got pushed aside before? Or will he need something to do? It’s a hard adjustment for many. Women also can go through that when they leave a career or have the last child leave the house. Just being is difficult. Yet in Psalm 46:10 we read: “Be still, and know that I am God.” God still has plans for your life, even if you don’t see them. And sometimes the plan is “wait.” “Really Lord? I’m terrible at waiting? Can’t you give me something to do?”
At this time of the year we are asked to wait; and to watch. Through the eyes of a child we are only waiting and watching for another 22 days, which, of course, is Christmas, but it feels like an eternity to them! But what about the times when the prophets preached, and the people heard things like: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name ‘Immanuel’” Isaiah declared that in chapter 7, verse 14. Isaiah proclaimed his message from 742-687 B.C! That’s over 700 years before Christ was born! Sometimes salvation seems to take an eternity. Sometimes God’s response seems to appear slower than ketchup or steak sauce from a bottle. What about “For unto us a child is born; unto us a son is given?” Same prophet; same timeframe. Musicians, theologians, writers, and even pastors can compress the time, so that waiting doesn’t seem so unreasonable. But babies, and trains, and leaves changing color and people on walkers can hardly be rushed. They are life lessons to us all: to gain some patience; to wait; and to be. Being is the state when we realize that we are loved by God by who we are, not what we have done. Look at newborn children. They can do nothing like to help with the dishes, change diapers, change sheets, or prepare food. The blessing that is a baby is being. We start in a fetal position and we may end our life in a fetal position with God like a caring mother or father, not cherishing our accomplishments, but cherishing the ways we are made in God’s image. God loves to see that in us.
There is another group of people who do not wait well: people who say they can read prophecies and tell when the Son of man will return. They are poor waiters, and so they predict when they need to just be in heaven’s waiting room. Even Jesus saw such people when he was living on earth. He named their predictions and he saw what they saw. But at the end, of all the predictions that have been made, listen to Jesus’ response:
If anyone says to you ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is,” do not believe it. False Christs and false prophets will arise and show you signs and wonders, to lead the elect astray if possible….But in those days … when the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give light, and stars begin to fall from heaven … they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory….But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son; only the Father. Take heed, therefore, and watch, for you do not know when that time will come. [Mark 13: 21-33]
Who knew our earth’s fate was to be the waiting room for seeing Christ? In this waiting room, we watch; some work who are of able body and mind; and some just wait. Every one of those activities is important, but not easy.
The Irish avant-garde playwright Samuel Beckett penned the intriguing two act play “Waiting for Godot.” It is staged very sparsely with one bare tree and two tramps in bowler hats. Sparknotes include this summary of the plot:
Two men, Vladimir and Estragon, meet near a tree. They converse on various topics and reveal that they are waiting there for a man named Godot. While they wait, two other men enter. Pozzo is on his way to the market to sell his slave, Lucky. He pauses for a while to converse with Vladimir and Estragon. Lucky entertains them by dancing and thinking, and Pozzo and Lucky leave.
After Pozzo and Lucky leave, a boy enters and tells Vladimir that he is a messenger from Godot. He tells Vladimir that Godot will not be coming tonight, but that he will surely come tomorrow. Vladimir asks him some questions about Godot and the boy departs. After his departure, Vladimir and Estragon decide to leave, but they do not move as the curtain falls.
The next night, Vladimir and Estragon again meet near the tree to wait for Godot. Lucky and Pozzo enter again, but this time Pozzo is blind and Lucky is dumb [mute]. Pozzo does not remember meeting the two men the night before. They leave and Vladimir and Estragon continue to wait.
Shortly after, the boy enters and once again tells Vladimir that Godot will not be coming. He insists that he did not speak to Vladimir yesterday. After he leaves, Estragon and Vladimir decide to leave, but again they do not move as the curtain falls, ending the play.
Watching and waiting for Christ will not be like waiting for Godot. Christ will come. But in the meantime, life goes on: with conversations, with tragedies, with encounters with strangers, and with messengers. Like a sparsely staged play, if your life were a play, would it largely take place in a living room, or on a road; in an office or in a care center? And if you were the director of your own play, how would you stage your life, waiting for the return of Christ?
Jeffrey A. Sumner December 3, 2017