December 4, 2016

“Who Are We Waiting For?”

 

Scripture: Isaiah 11:1-10
A shoot will grow up from the stump of Jesse;
a branch will sprout from his roots.
The Lord’s spirit will rest upon him,
a spirit of wisdom and understanding,
a spirit of planning and strength,
a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord.
He will delight in fearing the Lord.
He won’t judge by appearances,
nor decide by hearsay.
He will judge the needy with righteousness,
and decide with equity for those who suffer in the land.
He will strike the violent with the rod of his mouth;
by the breath of his lips he will kill the wicked.
Righteousness will be the belt around his hips,
and faithfulness the belt around his waist.
The wolf will live with the lamb,
and the leopard will lie down with the young goat;
the calf and the young lion will feed together,
and a little child will lead them.
The cow and the bear will graze.
Their young will lie down together,
and a lion will eat straw like an ox.
A nursing child will play over the snake’s hole;
toddlers will reach right over the serpent’s den.
They won’t harm or destroy anywhere on my holy mountain.
The earth will surely be filled with the knowledge of the Lord,
just as the water covers the sea.

10 On that day, the root of Jesse will stand as a signal to the peoples. The nations will seek him out, and his dwelling will be glorious.

 

In our Advent Bible study this morning, we were introduced to Ms. Ruby. Ruby is a sweet person. She is happy to see everybody – especially those she has never met. Ruby lives with two other ladies in a home in Nashville where they are cared for by caretakers and the church. All of these ladies were born with developmental disabilities, so Belmont UMC assists in their care. Often, people who spend time with these ladies find they are actually the ones being cared for rather than the other way around.

 

The story we heard this morning was by Lanecia Rouse, who was the youth minister at Belmont at the time her story took place. Lanecia, her sister Ciona, and her brother-in-law had volunteered to do Room in the Inn on Christmas Eve. (Room in the Inn is a ministry where individuals living with homelessness are brought to places that will allow them to sleep in a warm room and feed them while their clothes are washed and immediate needs are met) On this particular night, Ms. Ruby volunteered to help them. As Lanecia’s story goes, Ruby sees Jesus in every guest. In her own way, she greets the image of God in each of the men by calling them “Jesus.”

 

I first met Ruby in my first month at Belmont. I was terribly intimidated by this large church where I was the newest person on staff. I had been in large membership churches before, but not in a position where I needed to know everyone. As I worked my way around the room trying to meet other young adults to form a class, Ruby found me. Her eyes lit up and her smile grew large, like she was waiting for me – a stranger – just to say hello. I hesitated to sit with her as she had asked. I needed to meet the right people to do my job. But I sat – uncomfortable and worried that my new friend was the wrong friend but unwilling to leave someone who so hopefully asked that I would sit with her.

 

Ruby told me about her family. She talked about how excited she was to be at church. She marveled at all the people in the room and kept repeating her stories as folks would come speak to her. Ruby was completely in the moment. That room was where she met Jesus every week. I learned then that sometimes, even in the midst of my thoughts, I should take time to sit with people who are looking for Jesus.

 

I find a sense of pride and warmth listening to Lanecia’s story about Ruby. Ruby taught me a lot about truly loving my neighbor. When I was younger, I was in the gifted program. Everyone I knew and liked worked at the same speed and aptitude I did. We didn’t get much contact with those in the special needs program. The times we did were not very formative in how to view the so-called “other.” It took years for me to appreciate that difference was simply that rather than a qualitative “better” or “worse.” Not everyone needs to fit in a category that is compatible with mine for me to recognize gifts and graces they offer the world.

 

I was reminded of that lesson when I met Ruby. Ruby could not form sentences and thoughts like I could, but her life is rife with meaning. Belmonters experiencing anxiety and busy-ness are usually encouraged to take time to learn and grow with our special needs guests or with the children or Room in the Inn. These opportunities to experience life differently, even for a couple of hours, remind us that the God we serve lives in the simple moments. God does not wait on our to-do lists and schedules like we do. God is found with children coloring or with Ruby greeting every single person she can on Sunday morning – colorful purse at her side.

 

The experience of finding God where we do not expect it tells us so much about the Christ we are waiting to meet.

 

The prophesy we read today from Isaiah tells us about a great figure who would come from the family tree of the ancestor Jesse. He would be so great that his form feels covered in qualities of goodness. His presence would cause all the evils of the world to retreat. The wicked cannot stand him nor could the natural evils continue to exist in his presence.

 

Who is this great figure? It is the Messiah! He is the one we have been waiting for who would bring about all the promises of God into the world. His sheer presence would reverse all that which is wrong and command a new existence and a new way of living.

 

We wonder what he will be like. Other prophesies say he will be born and not come from the heavens. Instead of being a divine being, he will live as one of us. God will be his father and a virgin will be his mother. He will have skin and muscle and bone. He will cry and laugh and eat and sleep, but somehow, we believe, he will grow into the one that will save the world. How marvelous!

 

It is hard to believe that a being like us could save the world. How could someone or something so seemingly insignificant be capable of bringing about all the goodness the prophet Isaiah claims? He will do so by speaking to the hopelessness and apathy we all feel in our selves and banish it from our hearts. He will give hope and love to all who would embrace the coming of his kingdom. We just have to be watching for his coming.

 

It’s hard watching for the messiah at Christmas. He doesn’t seem to show up where and when we want him to. Instead of making a grand entrance in the temple, he comes first to the forgotten: the shepherds, the lambs, and the muck and mire of the lost.

 

I know that tendency to miss the coming of Christ. I get so busy and so motivated looking to what I think I should be doing, I completely miss the presence that God already is giving me in preparation. I get so tied up wanting to get the perfect gift, wanting to make the house perfectly straight and ready for guests. I want everything just right, and when I do that, I miss the simple gift of seeing Jesus in those around me. I forget to say hello to everyone’s image of God inside them waiting to be seen.

 

Who is it we are waiting for? The one who will make the world more like we want it to be? Are we looking for a savior that is going to do and be like we want him to be? Or are we looking for the shoot coming from Jesse’s stump – the one who will teach the aggressors to live in peace, help the vulnerable live in safety, and will bring about the kingdom of our Lord?

 

It all starts with me and you, looking for Jesus.

 

 

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