This word is music to my ears.
This word fills my heart with joy.
This word revives my soul.
Fulfilled. Have you ever been in a position of waiting? Have you ever been in a position of anticipation? And, in that waiting, it seemed like the appointed time would never arrive? The wait is as unnerving as when a friend says to you, ‘I have something to tell you, but you have to wait until I see you.’ In this case, the friend might as well not tell you anything at all, right? These words from your friend transform seconds, minutes, hours (let’s hope it’s not days) into a period of such anxiety. If only you had a way of advancing time so that you could hear what the friend has to say.
So, to take your mind off the wait, you set yourself to other things to pass the time. If you’re at work, you plunge yourself a little more deeply into what you might have been doing when the friend called. If you’re studying, you try to focus, or you probably find a puzzle to do. Something to keep your mind off the wait. Wherever you are, you look for some way to pass the time quickly.
What about, though, when the moment arrives? What about when the appointed time has arrived, and the promise is about to be transformed into fulfilment? How do you feel? Perhaps at this time, I should switch to more significant analogies: for a pregnant woman, the moment when you go into labour; for a student, the moment you receive the notification that grades have been released; for the person waiting for a job offer, the moment you see the employer’s number pop up on your phone screen, and for someone awaiting the outcome of a long and drawn-out court matter, the moment you receive the call from your lawyer that a decision has been made? The moments before you arrive at the outcome are even more excruciating than the wait over the past days, weeks, months, or years. But you press on because you have no control over the flow of time and, well, you’ve been waiting all this time, you can’t wait for this season of waiting to end.
In preparation for this week’s message, as I usually would, I reflected on the Sunday readings from Scripture. This Sunday happens to be Christmas Day, the day that commemorates one of the greatest fulfilment stories of all time: the birth of Jesus Christ. Centuries before His birth, the prophet Isaiah anticipated the occasion:
For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’Isaiah 9:6
Through this child, the yoke of the burden of the people who walked in darkness and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor would be broken. This is quite a fulfilment, isn’t it? I think it safe to say that none of you receiving this message has ever had to wait centuries for its fulfilment. Yet, these people did. I can only imagine what their wait was like. I can only assume that despair, discouragement, and cynicism must have crept in repeatedly. I can only imagine that doubt and denial might have taken up residence among them. I can only imagine that it was easy to get distracted and forget what the wait was about.
Yet for all the time that had passed, they kept hoping. In fact, they would receive reminders along the way, either through the prophets directly, or through their habitual contemplation of the words of the prophets. On your purpose journey, I’m sure the experience has been similar: you receive a promise but it’s long in coming, and you begin to lose hope. You wonder whether you heard God right. Your focus and energy begin to wane. You become distracted. Despair, discouragement, and cynicism become your friends and you must do all you can to prevent them from finding a warm, cosy place in your heart. Sometimes, you might, like Sarah, seek other ways to have the promise fulfilled. The unfortunate thing, though, is that that introduces complications that extend the wait and even make it more painful.
It is why, during the wait for the fulfilment, it’s important that we remind ourselves regularly of the promise. It’s critical that we reflect on God’s faithfulness, on God’s steadfastness, and unchanging nature. It’s important that we reflect on the promises that God has fulfilled, not only for us individually, but also for others in our faith community, and among our loved ones, or even for our faith community as a whole. During the wait, it’s important that we look for the messages that God’s sends us: messages that say, ‘I see you; I have not forgotten my word to you. Now, you do not forget my word to you.’ Take a moment to recall: what is the promise that you received? What are the messages that God has sent to you along the way to remind you that you are not forgotten? Make a note of them and read them frequently. After all, the darkness of what you often see as you journey towards purpose can seemingly threaten the fulfilment of the light that you have been promised.
Separating us from the fulfilment of the promise is not only the wait we need to suffer but also a journey. In the case of the Virgin Mary, she had to wait in shame. Remember she had conceived before she and her betrothed, Joseph, had consummated their marriage. Can you imagine the stories that circulated during those nine months? Can you imagine the snubs she would have received? Can you imagine the eager eyes that would have been monitoring her in her waiting, eyes only too pleased to feed others with the progress of the ‘Pregnant Virgin’? Can you imagine the loneliness that she suffered?
Now, coupled with the ‘exile’ she suffered, Mary was making a long and uncomfortable journey in response to the decree that had gone out from Emperor Augustus as we read in this Sunday’s gospel from Luke. What a gruelling experience. I can’t imagine that travelling by donkey on rough roads in a very pregnant state would have been a pleasurable experience. But the steadfast God she served, at the time when she perhaps least desired it, triggered the fulfilment of the promise – she went into labour and delivered the One who would deliver salvation to all who would believe. In the midst of her trial – her loneliness, her wilderness, her journey – God fulfilled the promise to her. In the midst of her mess, God delivered and, in one fell swoop, converted her from a woman scorned, to blessed and favoured of the Lord. In the midst of her darkness, on her and her family did light shine.
Friends, purpose often includes moments of deep darkness, moments of unshakeable discomfort, moments of stripping shame, and moments when you feel that the world is against you and that God has forgotten you. It is in these moments that we remind ourselves of the promise. It is in these moments that we eagerly look out for the messages God sends to keep our chins up and our heads held high. It is in these moments that we focus on the work God has assigned us while we wait. It is during these moments that our God who is steadfast and unchanging, reminds us:
So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth: it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.Isaiah 55:11
And then, you too, like the Virgin, will be visited by those who will receive the good news, those who will come to witness the promise, the promise fulfilled.
As I leave you, I say, I know the promise that you and I have received will be fulfilled. It is the nature of the God we serve, a god of completion. And, even ‘if it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay’ (Habakkuk 2:3).
Until next time, receive my wishes to you for a peaceful and joyous Christmas, a Christmas during which you will be embraced in the love of those near and dear to you and, most definitely, in the love of God.
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