Monday, December 10, 2018

Prayerful Anticipation

Sermon of Christ Lutheran Church, Staunton VA

December 9, 2018
Pastor Robert McCarty

Preaching Texts: Philippians 1: 3-11   Luke 3: 1-6

We live in a time of prayerful anticipation.

I had to say “prayerful anticipation” rather than just “anticipation.” The word anticipation for my generation might be defined by a television commercial for Heinz ketchup.

Americans 39 years old and younger might not remember when Heinz ketchup came in glass bottles rather than squeeze bottles.  You would hold these glass bottles at 45 degree angles and just wait for the ketchup to come out. And you would wait. And if you held the bottle straight up and down the ketchup would never come out because air would never work it’s way into the bottle. So you are there holding the bottle shaking the bottle trying to get the bottle of ketchup started. Waiting. Anticipation.

The frustration was so universal that Heinz made a commercial about it. A woman would sing “anticipation very slowly for 30 seconds while we watched a slow motion image of a ketchup bottle not pouring out ketchup. And for the last 5 seconds of the commercial the first drop of ketchup is just hanging there on the lip of the bottle before falling off in the last second of the spot. Waiting. Anticipation.

Heinz used our universal frustration with their product to sell more of their product. Now people just squeeze and shoot ketchup on to their hamburgers and hotdogs and scrambled eggs and french fries.  The tagline back in the 1970s was: the taste that’s worth the wait. Now you don’t have to wait for much, not even ketch-up. And yet...

We live in a time of prayerful anticipation.

Actually, of course, prayerful anticipation might not escape all that far from the anticipation ketch-up advertisement.  Right. You may have had prayer requests for God that placed you in a state of waiting. Where you waited, waited, and waited some more. Maybe you are still waiting for God to respond? To a prayer you first offered years ago.

We have talked about that in the Prayer Study that we have undertaken. That is always one of the challenges of prayer, recognizing the response of God, because some times God responds in ways that we do not anticipate. Sometimes the answer is not the answer we want to hear. Prayer and patience go together as do prayer and persistence. Through our prayer life we learn to live in anticipation of God reaching out to us. Waiting.

We live in a time of prayerful anticipation.

The same could be said about the Apostle Paul and his friends in the Church of Philippi. “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” Turns out Paul gave God quite a long time frame for getting something done—until the end of time, the formal beginning of eternity.

We live as well in that time of prayerful anticipation, even though the return of Christ is not what holds our bated breath in anticipation right now. Maybe that is our mistake; maybe we should live in that prayerful anticipation of that moment, but boy, how long would you have to hold that ketchup bottle to get to the day of Christ. Christ comes again. Trust me.  Still, you would have to leave that ketchup bottle in your last will and testament to someone like a grandchild. And they, likely, would have to include that ketchup bottle in their last will and testament. Of course I do not mean an actual ketchup bottle, but a statement of faith, “I Robert McCarty of sound mind and body hold onto the faith of Christ and ask all who read this and hear this to hold onto the faith of Christ as well. He is coming again. Trust me.”

Paul said it better, more affirming to you who are listening, or reading. “I am confident that the one—”The One, capital T, capital O. The One God will bring it to completion. You ain’t complete yet, but you will be by the day of Christ.

We live in prayerful anticipation of Christmas Day, of course. What do you need to make Christmas Day complete? What family member, what gift, what tradition, what special holiday food? We understand anticipation from many of our holidays. Anticipate Christmas, Anticipate Birthdays, Anticipate the end of winter. Some things we anticipate with excitement and joy, and other moments we anticipate with a certain kind of dread. Oh no not again. 

But Paul here talks of this anticipation with the joy akin to what children experience in the pending arrival of Christmas Day. Children know something about Paul’s joyful anticipation.

What I love about Paul’s anticipation is that he does not anticipate the arrival of the day so much. What he anticipates is how the coming of that day will change his friends. How the anticipation, the preparation, the watching, the praying the trusting will change his friends for the better. More gentle and welcoming, more generous and kind, more graceful and willing to forgive. 

I see the same here with you. In the passing of time and the growing of faith, God brings to completion in you what He began in Christ Jesus: generosity and gentleness, hope and faith, compassion and grace. That and a bit of snow makes for a joy-filled worship.


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