The Life we Wait For

This past Summer as Maureen and I prepared our move to Rhode Island, our younger daughter Kayleigh was coming to the end of her own time of transition.
Kayleigh is our anxious child. Needless to say, she does not accept change well. Last winter she struggled through her senior year of college as she worked laboriously on planning her future. She knew she wanted to go to grad school. She knew she wanted to get an advanced degree in Higher Education Administration with a concentration in student life. Deciding where and how became the crux of her anxiety as the school she hoped to attend did not come through with the scholarship and internship she had hoped for, and Canisius, where she is now, offered her everything she was looking for financially. 
This of course was not the end of her anxiety. Three weeks after her acceptance, Kayleigh was offered a resident directors position at Canisius. While this removed the stress of finding an apartment in Buffalo, it meant she had to wait for Canisius to assign her a dorm. This assignment came with her apartment for the next two years.  
May 19th came with all the fanfare of graduation and family celebration, but still no word as to where she was going to live this fall. Two days later, Joan Gray Anderson called to inform me that the search committee had decided to recommend me to the vestry. This put Kayleigh in to a tailspin, with no assigned apartment for the fall, and a move date for her of early August so we could move by September.  
From Kayleigh’s perspective, her world was in the midst of collapsing, or at least it felt like that to her as the her safety of Mom and Dad just two hours away was disappearing, and the home she had known for twelve years was vanishing. In one of her more anxious and dramatic moments she declared herself homeless as we tried to explain to her that she is now an adult, and part of adulthood is learning to be fully independent of mom and dad.  
Kayleigh could not picture being independent. Without knowing where she was going to live next, she could not throw her nervous energy into planning and shopping for her apartment or how and when she was going to move. Without Maureen and me just two hours away, she couldn’t imagine how she would cope when she needed a weekend off campus. 
During June and July, Kayleigh was in the midst of her own Season of Advent as she checked her email several times a day watching for her dorm assignment to come through and waiting anxiously for her new life at Canisius to begin.
Most of us are a lot like Kayleigh when it comes to imagining the reign of God. It is hard for us to imagine all of creation being restored to what God intended at the time of Genesis. It’s difficult for us to imagine the world filled with holy innocence similar to that of Adam and Eve. As New Englanders now entering the long stretch of raw, dark winter days, we can appreciate John of Patmos’ vision of the New Jerusalem as a place were there is no darkness, for the light of God fills every corner. John also tells us it will be a time when there is no sorrow or grief. It will be a time without war, or hunger, or illness. It will be the time when, as Isaiah predicts, the lion will lie down with the lamb. 
But first we are told there will be growing pains. In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus tells us, “there will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations.” In Matthew and Mark, Jesus declares nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. 
St. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, writes to provide comfort and assurance as the church in that area is undergoing persecution. In his letter, St. Paul refers his readers back to the words of Christ with the following statement. “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”
St. Paul does not end his thoughts of comfort here, instead, he continues with what could be the guiding words of Advent. ” For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
The season of Advent is about looking forward in hope even though we are living in the midst of growing pains. Advent is about living within the growing pains of the civil wars that plague many parts of the world; the terrorism which surrounds us; the religious battles between Christians and Moslems, and/or the more local crises that affect each of us every day such as illness, unemployment and even grief itself. Like Kayleigh who had to wait and hope that her new life would work out, we too are challenged to hope in what we do not know and cannot see as we look for the signs of the reign of God that are now present.
Diana Butler- Bass in her book, Christianity after Religion, tells us, she can see signs throughout the ages of the world moving towards the reign of God. In many ways, she says, the movement of creation towards the reign of God has come in the waves of great awakenings. Today, she writes, we are in the midst of the fourth great awakening in the United States. This awakening began in the 1960’s, to some extent it was side-lined by the religious conservatism that took root in the late 70’s, but since the late 90’s it has begun to move forward again. This fourth awakening is one she has described as an interfaith awakening. This is a time in the spiritual history of the United States when the plurality of faiths in this country are moving towards becoming an integrated whole. Diana describes what she is talking about with the following story.
As the end of Lent neared in 2011, I went to my local bank to deposit some checks. Three tellers were working that morning, all women. One woman wore a pale ivory hijab as a head covering; the second woman’s forehead bore the dark read mark known as a bindi; the third woman had a small crucifix hanging around her neck.
I walked up and laughed. “You all look like the United Nations of banking!”
They exchanged glances and smiled.
“You are so right,” said the Hindu woman. ” You should meet our customers! But we cover a lot of languages between the three of us.”
It was a quiet morning. They wanted to talk. I said something about being vegetarian for Lent. The Hindu woman wanted to give me some family recipes; the Muslim woman wanted to know more about Christian fasting practices (the Catholic woman was, by now, on the phone in another office).
I shared how we had dedicated Lent that year to eating simply and exploring vegetarian foods from different parts of the world. “when we eat Indian food, ” I explained, “we try to talk about the church in India or pray for people in India. The same for African and Asian and Latin American Countries.”
“What a wonderful idea!” the Muslim woman said. ” We need to love our traditions and be faithful to our God; but we teach the beauty and goodness of the other religions too.”
Her Hindu colleague chimed in, “That is, the only way to peace, is be ourselves and to create understanding between all people.”
For the next few minutes, they shared how much they appreciated living in Virginia, where they had found religious freedom. “Here it is like Thomas Jefferson promised, “the Muslim woman said. “Very good. People here are very tolerant, curious about different religions. Much better than other places. Here there is real respect. I can be a good Muslim here.”
I glanced at my watch. I needed to get to an appointment. I thanked them for their insights.
“I would wish you a Happy Easter,” I said hoping they would hear the sincerity in my voice,” but, instead, I wish you both peace.”
I started to walk away when the Muslim teller said to me, “Peace of Jesus the Prophet. And a very happy Easter to you.”
And the Hindu woman called out, ” Happy Easter!”
When I reached my car, I realized that I was crying. I had only rarely felt the power of the resurrected Jesus so completely in my soul. (p241)
A glimpse of the Reign of God, a glimpse of the hope of Advent . . the hope we all share. . .and wait for. 

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