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.
We are just now in the season of Advent. You most likely know that the roots of the word “Advent” are ad (to) and venire (come), so it is quite literally the time when we contemplate God’s grace in coming to us through Jesus Christ. Indeed, God chose to come to us not as a grand king or powerful military commander, but born of a poor young unmarried woman, temporarily displaced and homeless due to the government’s census order.
So this is a season of expectation, of Mary in her pregnancy, and of God’s people waiting in urgent hope for redemption and for the restoration of peace on this earth.
The urgency of hope requires a few ingredients: the patience to wait, the neediness to want change, the faith that God will effect the change, and the alertness to receive the change. Those who wait for change, those who groan waiting for redemption, don’t experience life as good enough. But it has occurred to me that many of us don’t like change, which means life is pretty good for us. This may be the essential challenge for the “haves” of the world to give their lives to this God who wills change, and one reason Jesus said that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
I have thought about this as tributes have been offered about President George H. W. Bush, because he was a man who came from wealth and privilege, but acted out of a quiet faith. His upbringing was sheltered but he was taught not to assume he was more worthy than any other person. One person suggested that his time in the military exposed him to people of different backgrounds, and he applied this humility to the breadth of the human experience. As a young congressman, he took the politically unpopular stance of voting for the 1968 Fair Housing Act, which opened housing to people regardless of color, saying “I served with these men in the Pacific and they should be able to live wherever they want to.”
I don’t want to delve too deeply into the moral triumphs and failings of President Bush, but it does seem that in his interpersonal relationships, he saw every person as his equal, as a fellow child of God. A story I have always remembered was first shared by Robert Shannon:
One Sunday a homeless man was standing in front of the National Cathedral when then President George Bush and his wife Barbara were going in. “Pray for me,” he said to the President. “No,” said President Bush. “Come in and pray for yourself.” He did, and after that he came in every Sunday and sat in the back. The congregation got to know him and began to help him in small ways. When he died that homeless man was buried in the churchyard of the National Cathedral! That homeless man was buried in one of the most prestigious plots of land in this country. How fitting for a church that is dedicated to another homeless man, Jesus Christ.
This reflects the idea that the President saw this homeless man as equally worthy to enter the National Cathedral, to make his appeal directly to the same God—and to the church’s credit, for God’s people to receive him as an honored member of the family.
What do you wait in expectant hope for, this Advent? I am touched by these stories of President Bush because the most basic prayer I have always had is that all people are seen and respected as fellow children of God, and I continue to pray for that. I pray especially for those who are not shown that respect—those who are being demonized as murderers and rapists because they are foreign and poor; those who have to worry about food and healthcare even though they are citizens of the wealthiest nation in the world; those whose troubles are ignored because we are too focused on ourselves or the most salacious news items in the press.
Just as God came to become one of us, just as Jesus chose to call us friend, just as even the wealthiest of us can use their privilege to share and support the cause of others, may we wait in expectant, urgent hope for God’s kingdom to come. May we have the patience to wait and not settle for short-term fixes to make ourselves feel better. May we care enough for those in need to be willing to give of ourselves for change. May we have the faith to keep praying for God to effect the change, and to step forward in faith to be agents of God’s change. And may we stay alert to herald and even participate in the change, even if it means drastic change in our own lives.
As a young couple gets their nursery ready for their coming baby, let us get our hearts, our lives, our churches ready, not only to receive the baby Jesus, but to receive all the children of God whom Jesus loves.
In urgent expectation and hope,