Sunday morning I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Christ United Methodist Church in Alliance, Ohio, where I gave a performance of my program, “Babushka: A Russian Christmas Tale,” for their combined Sunday school classes. The historic, classical-style sanctuary reminded me so much of the church that I grew up in, with its dark wood pews and railings, stained glass windows, the sound of the organ and the balcony wrapping around the top. The audience, comprised of both the young and young at heart, was great fun to work with – and little did I know that when I randomly chose one adult to be one of the three kings/wise men that I had chosen the pastor of the church! I wouldn't discover this until later when the service began and I saw him in his pastoral robe! One of the other kings, a young boy with lots of spunk, made everyone laugh, myself included, when after being coached to say that they were “three kings from the east” instead confidently proclaimed, “We're three guys from the north.” It really was delightful!
I think one of my favorite parts about my job is all of the people that I get to meet whom I would most likely never meet otherwise. After the show, I met a man who had just returned from a business trip to Russia and an older woman who told me all about the Christmas ornaments that her aunt taught her to make during the frigid South Dakota winters. I love the variety of experiences, the stories, the smiles that are shared with me. I feel like I leave each place I go with a wider circle of friends.
During the worship service, the pastor (aka Balthasar!) shared about the meaning of advent. He talked about it as a time of waiting on God's plans and said that this is precisely why advent is so difficult for the average American, or even the average human living in the 21st century for that matter. We are not good at waiting for anything. Think about standing in line, or traffic, or a slow internet connection – these little things are sources of frustration, annoyance and impatience. Our culture has done away with the idea of waiting as best as it can in favor of a my way, right away approach. But God has not. God still asks us to wait – to wait on Him and His plans.
The Old Testament reveals that God had promised to send a Savior, the Messiah, and the people of Israel were waiting for him. They had their own ideas of who that Savior would be and how he would come – with power and authority and military might. They weren't expecting a baby born in a manger. That was not their plan. But it was God's plan. And I suppose that's why it took the poor, the weak, and the foreigners of that time to realize who Jesus was while many of the scholarly religious people missed it. In my experience, these are the people in society who find it easier to let go of their own plans in favor of God's -- no matter how different they may be from what they had expected.
Today we wait for that same Savior. We wait to see him at work in the world and in our lives, and we wait for him to return and redeem all of creation. But it is important to remember that His plans are not our plans, and His ways our not our ways. And so we wait, and we watch. We look for signs just as the Wise Men looked for the star, but we recognize that He will probably come in ways that we are least expecting.
I've gotten fairly good at waiting and hoping in my plans (and anyone who knows me knows that I have a lot of them!). I've gotten really good at watching and looking for signs that my plans are coming to pass. But this advent, I pray that I will learn to wait on God's plans, even when I don't understand them and especially when they are different from my own. This is the hope we have in Advent – that God's plans are exceedingly greater than ours.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)
Happy Advent! Happy Season of Waiting and Hoping!