Waiting : Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
“We keep on waiting…
Waiting on the world to change…”
Advent has come upon us once again. Despite being one of the most beloved seasons of the Church Year, the origins of Advent are uncertain. An Advent season is mentioned in the records of the Council of Tours in 567. This is of interest in that a previous bishop of Tours, Perpetuus (461-490) had promulgated instructions for a fast before the Feast of the Nativity that stretched from November 11 to Christmas Eve and the first Mass of the feast. In the time of Pope Gregory the Great (590-604) there is mention in his homilies of a four week season of preparation which closely aligns with current liturgical practice. It appears, however, that the general observation of Advent as a season of penitence and expectation did not become normative in the western Church until the fourteenth century under Urban V.
Today, the season is one of penitence and expectation. We look towards the coming of Christ. We look for the coming of Christ in his Incarnation and his birth in Bethlehem. We look for the coming of Christ into our hearts. We look for the coming of Christ in judgement at the parousia. The appointed readings for the season reflect these themes, including the prophecies of the Hebrew scriptures and the testimony of John the Baptist at Christ’s first coming. Sunday by Sunday we wait to light the candles on the Advent wreath until, at last, the central Christ candle is lit on Christmas Eve.
Advent, it seems to me, is a season of waiting.
We, along with the prophets of old, wait for the coming of Christ, as once again we “delight to hear again the message of the angels, and in heart and mind to go even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which is come to pass, and the Babe lying in a manger.” With John the Baptist we wait to behold “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”. With Mary the Mother of our Lord, we wait for God to show his strength, to scatter the proud, to pull down the mighty, to exalt the humble and meek, to fill the hungry with good things, to send the rich away empty, and to remember his mercy and his promises. With the apostles, we wait for the apocalypse and judgment of all the nations when Christ returns in glory at the end of the age. Perhaps most of all, we wait for the continuing affirmation of Christ in our hearts and lives in our continuing fellowship with others in the life of the Church and in the sacraments.
Our waiting, expectation and penitence is, perhaps, a bit too real in 2020.
This Advent we wait for this pandemic to abate, even as we mourn and question the loss of over a quarter of a million lives in the United States alone.
This Advent we wait for the full testing and distribution of an effective vaccine in the hope that our normal lives might resume.
This Advent we wait for the opportunity to see and embrace friends and family once again.
This Advent we wait for the time when we can once again worship with others, without fear or restraint, and together partake of the fullness of the life of the Church.
This Advent, like John Mayer’s song, we are truly waiting on the world to change…
This Advent will be different. There will hopefully be fewer, if any, Christmas parties in offices and homes. Gatherings of families will be smaller and, for some, will be overshadowed by the hospitalization or loss of a loved one. For those who have lost jobs or businesses, this Advent may well be a time of sorrow as they view the future with a sense of anxiety.
Yet, perhaps the meaning of Advent may become clearer and more focused as we wait, and hope, and even as we mourn. For all of Advent, all of our waiting in these coming weeks, leads us to one place and to one person. It leads us to an infant in a manger… an infant who will change the world by taking us to himself… So, I’ll be waiting… waiting for the world to change.
This is so well put…this year has been all about waiting and the waiting continues.
Waiting may be the biggest test of faith of all…
Very good article – thanks
I am a big Advent guy – actually big on the whole church calendar.
During Advent we wait – we may even remove some things from the liturgy etc – but…there is one thing that does not change and does not require waiting – Jesus still presents himself where he has promised to be 24/7/365 — in his word, in the bread and wine and in the waters of baptism.
This is the time for those who have been hurt by the church, alienated or have just been lazy, to return and participate where Jesus said he would be – wait with Jesus.
Great topic and excellent article.
I find it fascinating and worthy of discussion that if you look at the readings for Advent and Christmas in the one year historic lectionary of the Western Church, you get a very good picture of what the early church thought was the significance of the arrival of Christ. Not only is it counterintuitive at points, such as beginning at the end, but I suspect that if modern Christians were formulating a new lectionary from scratch, without reference to any prior lectionaries, I suspect we would go about the task completely differently and come up with a markedly different lectionary. For these reasons, I believe there is very good value in the historic lectionary.
Many thanks… As Tom Petty said, “Waiting is the hardest part…”
I agree. Indeed, I doubt if modern Christians would say, “Christmas is coming! Let’s talk about the last judgement!” Truly counterintuitive…
When was the lectionary first published?
The earliest Christian lectionaries date to the fifth century. It is likely, however, that the idea of a lectionary arose out of the Jewish custom of reading particular extracts from the Torah and the Prophets in synagogue…
History, law,poets, prophets, gospel, letters to churches…. Seems to me that the whole Book is there for our edification and, frankly, I’d feel a bit cheated if i was only permitted to read what my denomination spoon fed me.. .
Do i understand this correctly?
But i do agree that the Father’s timetable is difficult here on earth – while we’re in this mortal flesh. . 🙆
“I’d feel a bit cheated if was only permitted to read what my denomination spoon fed me.. .
Do i understand this correctly?”
No not at all.
I’m not aware of any church that let’s the laity pick the passage for the coming Sunday. And if it did, how would it work if there are a few dozens, hundreds, thousands of laity?
The lectionary is for public readings in church services, usually on a theme. There is an OT lesson, a lesson from the Epistles and then from the Gospels. In the three year lectionary that is now used, if you do the reading on a daily basis, you go through the whole of scripture during that time. In the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, the readings took you through the whole of the Bible in one year… not exactly “spoon feeding”.
By contrast, in most evangelical churches, the pastor says, “My text for today is…” followed by a very long sermon on a single (usually short) passage of scripture.
“followed by a very long sermon on a single (usually short) passage of scripture.”
That’s true. I’d like to see a melding of the two. Lots of readings, then a 25-30 min deeper dive on one passage.
In liturgical services, the sermon is not a Bible Study. There is a separate meeting called a Bible Study or Sunday School for the “deeper dive.” The sermon ideally would be a proclamation of Christ for you. Why do you need him? What did he do for you? What he offers you now? Etc.
Michael almost had a heart attack when I mentioned that the homily (sermon) should be 12-15 minutes… 😁 I’m not sure that he has forgiven me yet…
Right Jean, and I wouldn’t call the proper Baptist sermon a Bible study either. It should be a proclamation of Scripture…a word from the Lord. We don’t always get there, but that should be the aim.
We have the other times for study as well.
Duane – Most of my Pastor friends have trouble keeping it under 45. 25 feels like the right time to me. 45 way too long, 15 way too short. I know it is all differing traditions and what the listener is used to…but this listener is used to wishing the sermon was over for the last 20 minutes 🙂
The sermons in my church do not exceed 14 min. The pastor preaches from memory and says that is the length he can memorize.
Yesterday he apologized for preaching behind the pulpit. Because of Thanksgiving and going out of town to perform a wedding, he said he did not have the time to memorize the sermon.
15 minutes seems too short…until you hear a well crafted 15-20 minute sermon.
The liturgy itself contains so much…
If you listen to many evangelical sermons and remove the personal stories and cultural references, you’re lucky to get 15 minutes of meat…
True, but I like the personal stories 🙂
Story-telling is such a gift that God has given us to relate to one-another. I always feel a little guilty for telling a story, because my education was strictly exegetical / expositional, but the difference in the engagement from the congregation is obvious.
I once did an experiment where I told one long story about something that happened with me a nd a friend in college. I wove in the scripture and the sermon points into my story. The response was overwhelming. I still get comments from that sermon 4-5 years later (and I don’t get comments on any of my sermons after the service is over.) There is a powerful medium there that I think God could use for His glory, but it didn’t seem right to me.
When I was an evangelical, my sermons were mainly extemporaneous although I pretty much always used a written outline. In delivery, however, the point of the exercise was to make a “connection” with those who heard me. Springsteen talks about his concerts in the same way… he won’t leave the stage until the magic happens, even if it takes three hours!
As an Anglican, I write my sermons word for word. In writing, less is usually more. In the space of three to four pages double spaced and well edited, I try to leave my hearers with a single idea or thought that they can take away with them.
Having done both, the written sermon with a central idea well delivered is much, much more difficult. I’ve also come to believe that it is far more effective. Again, however, that is just my experience…
Michael @ 11:43. well said, but i think, dunno, that is the way they are taught to present the Sunday sermon…. Sometimes it goes well, but. ..
Too much for an old brain to process today – we lost a neighbor to covid last week…. sigh.. Long, long time married couple
Dr. Duane @11:00 thank you – clear and courteous. 😇
I’m not saying this is the thought of anyone here, but IMO when a preacher needs to adorn his sermon with cute or inspirational personal stories or anecdotes, there is an implicit admission that the Scripture itself is incapable of conveying God’s message to the congregation, and that God’s Word is not itself efficacious.
Moreover, the whole way the modern church decorates the Scriptures leaves the naked Scriptures appearing old, outdated and boring. I credit modern sermons and books on spirituality as partially responsible for modern Christians becoming Bible illiterate.
Duane – Yes, the connection. Keep in mind, I’m more a musician than a preacher, so I certainly chase that connection. Not claiming it is a 100% good thing, but it seems like a waste if there is no connection.
I experiment since I am not the main preacher, but I often write out my sermons as well, but then just take an outline into the pulpit. I don’t think there is anything extemporaneous in my sermons. If there is, I feel guilty about it for a long time afterwards. H. B. Charles is the current example of what Baptists are taught in seminary. He writes out a meticulous manuscript, but then goes to the pulpit with only a Bible. I’ve tried that too, but lose my train of thought too easily. I started cutting all extemporaneous speech years ago after hearing old tapes of Stephen Olford. He never had a misplaced word, and it made his subject seem so much more important that he was that careful with his speech.
sermon length…….. ok, whatever. My sermon is shorter than yours. So what?
I totally get the consideration of attention spans, but some times you actually have people wanting, and even needing more. Such was the case for me yesterday morning as I preached Isaiah 64, Year B, First Sunday of Advent. I stayed out of Psalm 80 and 1 Cor 1 due to time……
And the main subject was waiting ………………
Jean – obviously I disagree. Now, I’m a bible guy who always wants more Scripture in the service, but I’m assuming your pastor isn’t just reading the bible to you for 12-15 minutes? He is adorning the scriptures with something.
God made us as relatable beings. Emotional, capable of appreciating beauty. He definitely uses those creation traits to speak to us.
How long did you go pstrmike?
The writing of sermons is such a part of the tradition. I gave Michael an Anglican sermon written in the 18th century. There was something about seeing the the handwritten manuscript of some country parson and realizing that we are engaged in the same task…
Very cool, Duane. Do you then read the manuscript from the pulpit?
I was always told that anecdotes, stories and illustrations were windows that let light in to illuminate the text.
Combination of reading and memorization…
I mean, I think we all get what Jean is saying. We’ve all heard the talks where the preacher is much more impressed with the stuff he has done, than he is with the Word. There’s a legit safeguard to put in place there. As I said earlier, even I felt the full-on storytelling type sermon that I tried, to great effect, was inappropriate.
Josh. lol. about 10 minutes longer than normal. I actually asked during my sermon if it was ok to go longer than normal and got a very loud YES from the congregation. I think text was very compelling, and I suggested that they spend more time with it this week.
“I was always told that anecdotes, stories and illustrations were windows that let light in to illuminate the text.”
Makes sense to me. Otherwise, just read the text, close the book, end in prayer and be done……
Let me put it this way Josh, if the preacher is speaking for Christ in the service, then he is not speaking for Duane, Michael, Josh or Jean.
That is what Paul was writing about when he referred to himself as an ambassador. It is what gives the sermon authority. It is why the pastor is entrusted with a set of keys, with which he, on behalf of Christ, is authorized to open an close the door to the kingdom of Heaven.
The Lutheran pastor wears particular clothing when presiding over a service as a symbol and reminder to himself and the congregation that he is there doing the business of Another.
I think a 15 min sermon by the pastor is plenty if the lector has completed all the readings to the congregation earlier.
The OT reading, the Psalms, the Epistle followed by the Gospel reading – frees the pastor up to preach.
Actually, the reading aloud of the actual scripture is what the Holy Spirit works with – the rest he puts up with. 🙂
Jean – Agreed, with exception to the special clothing.
MLD – probably some truth there.
pstrmike – 🙂 If you were a baptist you’d be accused of burning someone’s roast.
Josh, LOL!!! I am a Baptist…..
Poor pot-roast. Come on, man. Take it easy!
That is right, I remember you jumping to the darkside a couple of years back. How do you feel a couple years in?
Gotta run, but I’ll say, its been good! Should have done it 10 years ago……
Cool! Good to hear. I’ll have to catch you on an Open Blogging some day and talk SBC, PHX sem, and other things.
For the rest of you, sorry for the interlude, just two old Baptists catching up 🙂
I like Justin Martyr’s description:
“And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place. And the memoirs of the Apostles or the writings of the Prophets are read, as long as time permits. Then, when the reader has ceased, the priest verbally instructs us and exhorts us to imitate these good things.”
“the priest verbally instructs us and exhorts us to imitate these good things.”
That translation of Martyr is certainly the way it comes across to our eyes, Josh. However, it could be an exhortation to believe in Christ and to imitate the faith of someone in the passage that was read.
In Romans 1 Paul says of himself, “we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.”
They were much more Gospel oriented and much more focused on the imitation of Christ. In patristic homilies the Sermon on the Mount is referenced more often than any other portion of the NT…
But I think what Justin Martyr means, as much as anything else, is that the Gospels were not written for the purpose of providing a historical record, though they certainly provide that as well, but for the purpose of applying the writings to the hearers, to bring about repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, which is to say, to make disciples.
I think we also have to say that in this period, faith in Christ was not seen as being separate from Christian conduct…
If you mean, they are never without each other in a Christian, I agree. That’s Gal. 5:6.
If you mean they both justify or both contribute to justification, then I disagree.
Faith justifies… conduct exemplifies…
I think it just shows that there has always been a “do” element to the Christian faith, exemplified in Justin’s description of the early worship service.
It has been from the apostolic time a very difficult distinction, because Christianity is so unique among the world’s religions. Who can imagine a God who gives all he requires? Or a Son who came to fulfill the will of the Father perfectly for everyone who believes in Him? It’s nearly impossible to hold, so there is the temptation in fallen human nature, egged on by the world and Satan, to begin by grace but desire to finish by the flesh.
On a tangent, I would love to see a side by side top ten comparison of the exhortations of Justin and his peers vs. the top ten from your favorite Christian radio celebrity pastor. I have a feeling we would be ashamed.
Something to keep in mind is that God has been pleased to save some by the “foolushness of preaching…” Tent meetings, radio, TV, church evangelistic outreach……
To each, perhaps, as God knows best? Hhmmm
On the other hand, sometimes foolishness is just foolishness…
Yes, Dr. Duane, it is, so…..
Can plain foolishness save souls? Probably not…..
For instance, channel surfing i saw “Christians” experiencing the ecstasy of whirling dervishes arms straight out and spinning in circles…. Now IMV that is foolish in capital letters
Dunno though, the only time i ever tried was as a kid – spinning until you’re so dizzy you can’t stand up, lying down you open your eyes and the trees and sky are …. spinning…. no spiritual benefits that we ever felt……
We live in strange times…