Confession time… I’ve had a tenuous relationship with patience. My family, particularly my mother, always said I “had NO patience.” You come by that sense honestly I suppose, when you’re caring for three kids, and there’s only one of you.
I’m proud to say I and our family has been learning a lot about patience this week. We’ve been waiting for our daughter Faith to have our fourth grandchild. She was due on Thanksgiving. We all ate Thanksgiving dinner on the edge of our seats. Nothing.
This afternoon though, they admitted Faith to the hospital as a precaution, and it looks like today or tomorrow, at the latest, they’ll schedule a C section and Sarah Grace will make her grand entrance into the world.
By the way, the birth date pool has been officially closed.
In one sense it has been easy being patient for the birth. This entire process is completely out of our hands. Nothing we can do about it anyway. You really have no choice but to wait until the biological gears begin their mysterious grinding. The older I get, the more I realize there’s a lot more out of my hands than in them. Patience comes easier than it did.
But patience can be misplaced. There’s a time to wait and a time to act. Our family is depending on the doctors knowing when it is time to be patient and when it’s time to move.
Patience can also be a ploy. As when those who have, advise patience to those who don’t.
Civil rights? Be patient.
Marriage equality? Whoa, slow down there.
Raise the minimum wage. What’s the rush?
It didn’t take me long to realize at the beginning of my ministry that those who always said things were moving too fast were the same ones who had no intention of changing. Ever. You could throw the whole thing into reverse and it would still be moving ahead too fast.
I used to really struggle with that a lot. Those old tapes echoing in the back of my head.
But, you know what? Jesus never told us to be ‘patient.’
Jesus said be “watchful.”
Jesus said, “Stay awake!”
Jesus said, “live faithfully.”
Patience is very different than wakefulness. You must be wakeful to know when to be patient. Patience without wakefulness is often just another word for dumb.
No Jesus doesn’t talk about patience. Jesus talks about living faithfully and wakefully. Following the Spirit that blows like the wind. Free and uncontrollable. You set your sails in relation to it, and if you are aware enough and do it well enough, that Spirit wind will drive your “life boat” forward to places you can’t begin to imagine.
Staying awake means recognizing that the wind of the Spirit is blowing, and to see how things are already changing. With us or without us.
And they are changing. That’s what the birth of Jesus is all about. God showed up one night in a stable in a little back water of Bethlehem as a…. BABY! Yep, that’s right. A helpless, squealing, peeing and pooping little bundle of babyhood!
You think things can ever go back to being the same after that?
In the next hours, a baby will be born in our family. Sarah Grace. Raise your hand anyone who thinks things will get back to normal after she makes her first wail in the hospital delivery room?
No, as anyone who’s been a parent, or been given the task and privilege of caring for a baby knows, normal has now LEFT the building.
Babies are the “new normal.” They keep you on your toes. Your life cracks open and you make room for them in your heart, but they also take over your schedule and they tell you when you can eat and when (or if) you can sleep. Where you can go and for how long… It takes patience, and a whole lot more, to make it through a baby.
That’s why Jesus calls us to watchfulness and wakefulness. Because that baby born in Bethlehem changed everything. Stay awake and watch. You’re in for a surprise.
Because if God showed up in the straw of a flea-bitten stable one night… God’s liable to turn up anywhere. Even here!
Watch. Stay awake. Wait faithfully.
Oh yes, and welcome little Sarah Grace!
(Based on a homily preached at Messiah Lutheran Church for joint midweek Advent devotions, Dec.4, 2013)