Dec 2 2012

Eager Expectation

Today is the first day of Advent.  Advent is a word that means “coming.”  In the four weeks leading up to Christmas Christians will be asked to reflect on the coming of Jesus long ago and also on the fact that Scripture declares that he will one day come again.  We tend to place the most emphasis on the former but Advent calls us to remember both “comings.”  When I was a child I recall hearing preachers say that Jesus was coming back anytime now.  It was a message I heard often enough that I remember eventually coming to the conclusion that he sure was taking his time.  It’s not easy for children to wait.  I’m not sure it’s much easier for adults.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, “Celebrating Advent means being able to wait. Waiting is an art that our impatient age has forgotten.”  Yes, waiting can be difficult, especially this time of the year.  Children will certainly be restless between now and Christmas.  For them it will be a long wait before the big day arrives and they get to open presents.  Advent is likewise difficult for us adults as we wait and wait and wait for Christ’s return.  This waiting can be as painful for us as it is for our kids waiting for Santa Claus to come.  But wait we must.

Interestingly enough, we do not wait alone.  The Bible indicates that all of Creation also awaits the coming of Christ.  In Romans 8 Paul talks about how “the creation waits in eager expectation” for the glory that will be revealed.  And there is good reason for Creation to wait in eager expectation.    In vs. 20-21 Paul writes, “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”

In v. 22 Paul goes to add, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”  This verse contains both bad news and good news.  The bad news is Creation suffers today.  It is in pain from the “bondage of decay” brought upon it by the sin of man.  In his commentary on the Book of Romans, Paul Achtemeier says, “If one wonders at the ‘mythology’ involved in earth’s suffering for human perversity, one can have its truth demonstrated in a quite literal way by seeing what humankind has done by way of the pollution of air and water and the thoughtless exploitation of the natural resources of the world in which we live.”  Considering how we have treated the earth and its resources, how could it not suffer?  How could it not eagerly long for restoration?

That leads to the good news.  Paul says creation groans “as in the pains of childbirth.”  Although pain is associated with childbirth the pain points to something better to come—the birth of a child.  Nature’s pain and eager expectation are important because they point to a better day and a better world to come.  Paul’s words in Romans 8 are all about hope, which happens to be the theme of the First Sunday of Advent.  For both humans and Creation the Bible points to a brighter and more glorious future.  Many churches today heard passages read from the Book of Isaiah.  This prophet, likewise, looked forward to a better day to come, a day when “the wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together.” (11:6)  One day there will be “a new heaven and a new earth” where all shall be as God intended.  That truly is something worth waiting for.

Yes, a better day is coming for both believers and Creation.  In the meantime, we are called by God to make the most of our time on this earth and one way we can do this is by being good stewards of God’s Creation.  There are lots of ways we can help nature suffer less in the here and now.  Considering how long nature has already waited, wouldn’t you agree that it’s past time we did something to help?

–Chuck

p.s. I came across a wonderful video a few days ago where “Blessed Earth’s” Matthew and Nancy Sleeth are interview by Tony Campolo and Shane Claibore.  I encourage you to take time to watch it.  Here’s the link: http://vimeo.com/29624868