The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
December 10, 2023
God often makes us wait for what we long for. When He does that, He still loves us. He’s only seeking to give us other blessings that are more valuable and fitting for the present moment. He’s doing something better than immediately giving us what long for – and there’s always grace to welcome before the grace we most want to welcome arrives.
What this means is that we can by faith happily thank God for His perfect grace for today even while we ache and wait for still bigger and better grace for tomorrow.
There is no practice of our faith without the practice of patient but hopeful waiting.
Of course, we dislike waiting, and we’re growing less and less practiced at it because there’s less need for it in our modern world. In an article in Christianity Today last year, Jen Wilkin wrote, “When the first ATM was installed in my hometown in the 1980’s, it felt like magic: Insert a card, take out cash. Since then, we’ve learned to love not having to wait in just about every area of life. Products arrive at our doors within a day; meals in a matter of minutes; movies, books and music appear on our devices immediately.” We now inhabit a habitat of instant gratification!
Wilkin recognizes how in many ways this is great, but she also notes it is something of which to be wary. For all this rapid delivery of what we desire can cause us to view waiting as an enemy to be eliminated from life.
Yet, the Bible teaches that waiting is, even if we don’t like it, good for us. Waiting slows us down and enables us to appreciate deep blessings to which we might be oblivious or of which we might be insufficiently appreciative. At the same time, waiting stirs up in us a passion to pursue greater blessings ahead.
Almost always, the greatest blessings take time to come into being. Yes, we can, on rare occasions, make quantum leaps forward in, say, the development of ability or wisdom. But it’s overwhelmingly the case that we cannot rush what’s most important. We can’t rush nurturing a close relationship with a person (whether human or divine), a crucial life skill such as truly listening to people, or a deeper grasp of the glory of a high art form such as jazz. Most often the consummation of the best blessings involves a long build-up.
That’s why the Bible so frequently urges us to practice patience, steadfast perseverance and faithful consistency in the disciplines of the spiritual life.
We cannot, for example, mine the full riches of scripture in a snap. We have to linger over God’s word day after day, and return to it again and again. We have to steep ourselves in it with persistence. Making the riches of God’s word our own is not, Wilkin observes, like inserting a debit card into an ATM. It’s more like making many little deposits over the years in a long-term, high yield investment portfolio in the hope that, by denying ourselves immediate payouts, we will end up with more. It’s an exercise of faith, one in which we believe we get more blessed if we don’t get every blessing right away.
Let us then invest a little time now to comprehend God’s word to us today from Isaiah. The prophet is delivering God’s word to His people after they’ve been waiting to get their country back following a long exile from it in Babylon and a frustrating, stalled-out homecoming once they made it back to their promised land. The people are struggling not to fall into despair.
Isaiah hears God give this command: “Comfort, O comfort my people!” But how shall they be comforted? With the assurance that God has not given up either on them or on the fulfillment of His promises, but is in fact coming to bless those who wait on Him! And what will bring them such assurance? Crying out the truth!
Three times in a row in the first half of this scripture, God commands that the truth be “cried out”. God says in verse 2 to cry out the good news of His forgiveness and the end of the people’s punishment; in verse 3, to cry out the need for preparing the way of the Lord by which He will arrive leading His people home; and in verse 6, to cry out God’s unchanging, everlasting word of salvation to mortals who by contrast soon wither away like grass. The crying out of all this truth gives comfort to those who’ve lost so much of what’s most dear to them, and it renews in them the hope that God will eventually restore everything and raise the glory of everything to its highest level.
This restoring and raising are blessings the people cannot bring about themselves. These blessings will arrive solely and entirely as God’s accomplishment. The only contribution the people make is that they trust in God’s mighty love, wait on God faithfully to fulfill keep His word and let God “feed” them “like a shepherd”, “gather” them “in His arms” and “carry” them home “in His bosom”.
God’s promise to do this, He declares 15 chapters later, “stands forever”. There God says, “The word that goes out from my mouth…shall not return to me empty, but shall accomplish that which I purpose.”
One purpose for which God sent this word is that His rescued and raised up people – here referred to as “Zion” and “Jerusalem” – would become “heralds of good tidings” who “lift up [their] voice with strength” to proclaim, “Here is your God!” They tell the disheartened, “In your presence now is the God who reaches out to you to deliver you from despair and to bring you home: that is, your place with Him where you’ll know comfort, empowerment and life at its best!”
Christmas is an anointed time to reach out to others because at the first Christmas God reached out to us all. At Bethlehem the Son of God joined the human race to give His life to rescue us and return us home.
So this Christmas may we reach out as He reached out! May we be “heralds of good tidings” who invite others, not just to warm and bright holiday celebrations, but also to saving relations with the Good Shepherd who carries everyone who lets Him into a life of restoration and growth in glory!
We do wait for many of our best blessings, but we must not wait to invite others to allow God to carry them down His highway to hope, peace, joy and love!