- The Washington Times - Monday, December 23, 2002

The following are excerpts from a sermon given yesterday by the Rev. Gary W. Charles at Old Presbyterian Meeting House in Alexandria:
The circle is complete. The four candles now burn around the Advent wreath. They are a sign that we have been waiting for God during Advent. Someone might ask, "Why not light the Christ candle, the last candle, right now? What are we waiting for?"
Today, we will reverse the Advent question to ask, "What is God waiting for from us?" Could every flickering candle mean that the Lord God Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, is waiting on us?
In Luke's Advent story [1:26-38], the heavens hold their breath waiting for what lowly Mary will do. Typically, Protestants don't dwell much on Mary, partly in reaction to a sense that Catholics and Eastern Orthodox dwell on her too much. But Luke is saying, "If you want to understand the advent of God in the world, then pay attention to Mary's response."
Mary doesn't consider her social rejection for being pregnant and unmarried. She only asks the angel "how" the birth could happen. Then she hears the world's oldest line, "Trust me." And she does, saying, "Here I am, the servant of the Lord."
I am convinced that Santa rules in our society, largely because the God of Advent does not. We wait for God to arrive as a heavenly superhero. We want a clear and booming voice, as when the angel came to Mary. Our world is out of kilter, so we are waiting on God to solve its problems. We wait in the church for God to decide how to read the Bible on all the issues. In our lives, we wait for God to get us a better job or fix our marriage.
In all of our waiting, the God to whom many pray looks more like Santa or Wonder Woman, or Gandalf, than a helpless, screaming child, born to an unwed mother in a stable. In our retelling of the Advent story, we might want a less-submissive Mary who makes Gabriel her agent to negotiate benefits prenatal care and a room at the Bethlehem Ritz before she agrees to this little scheme of God's.
In our Advent story, we are waiting for God to lead us to Oz and deflect all our suffering. But if we follow Luke's story, and not our religious fantasy, Advent is more about God waiting on us. What if God waits on us with the same awesome trust with which God waited on Mary? What if God comes into the world not in supersized greatness, but as a vulnerable child who knows our weakness?
The story of Advent is God waiting on us to follow the Bethlehem baby, the Prince of Peace. It is so much easier to wage war, to drop that brilliant bomb, to send that flaming e-mail, to make that irate phone call, to shout at a child or sling old baggage at a spouse. It is easier to draw a line in the sand and dare someone to cross it. What if God is waiting on us to wage peace?
Jesus, the Palestinian healer, told us that it is easy to love those who love us back. It's easy to extend mercy to grateful people and invite to our parties those who return the invitation. What if the Great Physician waits on us to forgive those who are unforgivable, welcome into our church those who think we are self-righteous hypocrites, and love those we label "less fortunate."
Early in Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," the ghost of Jacob Marley speaks of how he failed to comfort others. Scrooge objects, saying, "But you were always a good man of business, Jacob." "Business," cries Marley the ghost. "The common welfare was my business. Charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business."
The circle is complete. Advent is nearly over. What if we stop waiting for God to give us everything on our list? Instead, what if we sing with Mary, "My soul does magnify the Lord." We know God gives us more than what we want. God gives us all we really need.
Next week: a sermon at a Maryland congregation


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