Life In the Waiting Room
In Luke chapter 21, Jesus has just predicted the fall of the Jerusalem temple when he immediately starts describing what appears to be the end of life as we know it. There will be signs in the sun, moon, and starts. On the Earth nations will be distressed by the roaring of the sea and waves. People will lose their breath out of fear of what is to become of the world because the powers of heaven will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
If that is not prime material for the next hit apocalyptic/dystopian movie then I don’t know what is.
I find it intriguing that Jesus/Luke quoted this vision almost verbatim from the book of Daniel.
Hear Daniel 7:13-14:
“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory, and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”
The latter part of Daniel and the book of Revelation are considered apocalyptic literature, meaning they speak of prophesies, fantastic beasts (and where to find them), symbols, and the end of life as we know it.
According to pastor and author Meghan Good:
“Apocalyptic literature in the Bible is a genre composed by people under pressure—oppressed, persecuted, or afraid. This literature peels back the curtain of the world-as-we-know-it to show what’s happening behind the scenes. It depicts a cosmic battle between Good and Evil in which the Earth is contested territory and in which every at reveals in one way or another allegiance to a side.”
For those who weren’t in Sunday School last week perhaps this will inspire attendance, because clearly God is doing something in that class and in this text: Last week we talked about this very text and about Jesus predicting the fall of the temple and the second coming…not knowing (at least I didn’t know) that this text was the lectionary passage for today, the first Sunday of Advent!
When I read the lectionary text I started shaking my head in amazement. I was like, “Ok God, I am listening, clearly you have something to say in all of this apocalyptic drama.”
Reading and studying led me down a very long, existential path, one that is heaven shaking, mind boggling, world changing…one that leads us to the Son of Man, Jesus Christ.
I offer myself as partner on this path, asking you to wonder with me:
“What does this life mean?”
“And, assuming there is one, what will the next life look like?”
“What will it be like when Jesus comes again?”
“What does it mean to be alert and ready for when Jesus comes?”
“Will I have the strength to endure all the things that will take place?”
“Will I be able to stand upright before the Son of Man?”
“What if ‘these things’ that Jesus said would come are actually happening right now?”
There are certainly earthquakes, the seas churn with tsunamis and hurricanes, there is enough suffering in our lifetime to distress us greatly and steal our breath away. The Earth groans with the burden of being our home. And we have a responsibility of being alert during our time here on Earth. But what does that look like?
When I was fourteen I was riding my bike home one night after babysitting when a truck hit me while I was crossing the street on the crosswalk. The details of that story are for another time because this story isn’t about me, it’s about my sister, Sierra.
My sister and my dad were at home watching a movie when they got the call that I had been hit. Dad rushed Sierra to get in the car and, in a flurry of anxiety, they drove the block to where I had was lying in the road. When they got there dad told Sierra to wait by the car while he went to see if I was ok.
So Sierra, who still didn’t fully understand what was going on, stood by the car. Then finally Dad told her that she could come over. When she walked over to me her knees were shaking and, like in a cartoon, when she put her hands on her knees to shop the shaking, her hands also started shaking. All the while when I was laying on the ground bleeding and waiting for the ambulance, I was cracking jokes, trying to comfort her and make her smile.
I tell this story from my sister’s perspective because Sierra was the most out-of-the-loop and therefore terrified one during this time of waiting and hoping that everything was going to be ok. She didn’t have all the information. Her young mind couldn’t process this scary and stressful situation as it was unfolding. She was like the family member left in the waiting room, anxiously awaiting information about their sick love one.
What if the life we are living right now is like that waiting room?
Or like that period of anxious waiting that Sierra had to endure during my accident?
We spend a lot of our time afraid, in transition, awaiting news…wanting to be close to our loved ones. All we can do to occupy ourselves is try to stay busy—so we don’t think about what we are facing in this present moment. We hold the emotional tide at bay with all our strength, however we can. We pick up whatever is near us, a magazine, a book, our phones, or we stare at the fish tank in the corner just long enough until the moment the doctor or a family member comes out, calls our name, and fills us in.
Finally, our waiting can end.
So, if this were the case, what does it mean to live life in the waiting room?
Do we live constantly afraid of the news that is to come? Of the uncertain future that awaits us? Do we distract ourselves so we don’t have to face the churning seas that boil within us? Or do we get up each morning and stand up, raising our faces to the Lord, even though we have no idea what will happen?
I recently heard someone define addiction as anything that keeps us from being with ourselves. We are addicted to what best distracts us from what is going on in our lives and what is going on inside of ourselves.
Maybe this is what Jesus meant when he said:
“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with distracted, wasteful, unfocused lives.”When the NRSV translation uses the word “drunkenness” here it could mean alcohol, but it could also mean being drunk on ones own illusions.
No matter what we are drunk on, be it alcohol, power, pride, humility, technology, revenge…what we consume consumes us.
All of this is opposite from Jesus’ call to wakefulness, awareness, mindfulness. How would our lives be different if we actually experienced, absorbed, even savored each moment of our time in the waiting.
What if we stood up and faced this life as we know it?
I am in a retreat group that is studying the book, “Wisdom of the Body: A Contemplative Journey to Wholeness” by Christine Valters Painter and in this book Painter encourages us to savor life.
Savoring life requires undivided attention to whatever we are doing in the moment. One example Painter gives is savoring the food that we eat. To do this she suggests taking five deep breaths when we sit down to enjoy our meal and then give thanks for the food we have the privilege of eating.
She also advises taking a full breath in between each bite. We are to actually notice and pay attention to how the food tastes vs. trying to fill our bellies as fast as we can. She says we might fill our bodily hunger this way, but it surely won’t fill our soul hunger. When we eat mindfully we notice if the food is sweet, salty, tangy, or rich. We notice if the texture is crunchy or soft. Painter acknowledges that this practice is countercultural and can be quite difficult at first. She says we can take it one step at a time, maybe trying to mindfully eat one thing on our plate, or just dessert.
So what does mindfully eating have to do with the disruptive present and future Kingdom of God? Well for one thing they are both countercultural. When we begin to be mindful to what and how we eat then that might extend out to how we treat our bodies, our neighbors, creation, and really how we live out the entirety of our lives.
Living life with a distracted spirit robs us the pleasure of actually living and enjoying this life, even life in the waiting room. Even as the seas wage around us and the world quakes with anticipation of transformation, we could learn how to embody a mindful presence in-tune to our surroundings.
We might ask ourselves, will we let ourselves crumble with the weight of the world? Can we live life standing upright, ready for God to apocalyptically disrupt life as we know it?
Can we see where God is already doing just that? Are we aware and thankful for how God disrupted our world in the form of God in flesh, the Son of Man, Jesus Christ? The baby who became a King like no other, one that washed feet and shared his table with the misfits of the world.
Divine deliverance and liberation is on the way. It is happening and it will happen in full. This is the apocalyptic, revealed paradox. The tension of the now-and-not-yet, the life-in-the-meantime, the life-in-the-waiting-room that we live in. How baffling, that many things can happen, can be true, at the same time.
This is the essence of the strange, in-between life we live in.
As David J. Lose says:
“There are, and always will be, events looming in the future that are beyond our control. But that uncertain future does not have to dominate the present. For beyond uncertainty of uncontrollable future events is the sure and certain hope of a future secured by Christ. Yes, there is waiting and wonder and worry that colors our lives, but the threat of these things to overwhelm us is held at bay by Christ’s promise to hold onto us, stay with us, and bring us in time to glory. This promise, in turn, frees us in the present to direct our gaze to those things we can influence for the good and to those people we can help here and now, trusting that even our most meager efforts are eventually caught up in the consummation of what Jesus promises.”
It is our choice how we spend our time in this waiting world. Will we spend it drowning in the chaos, desperate for a distraction from ourselves? Will we cease to live, to thrive while we wait? Only barely keeping our head above water? Or will we stand with raised heads, full of courage and hope that God-in-Jesus is here, is a part of our very being, and will come again—proclaiming that death, chaos, worry, destruction, and disease do not have the final word.
Even if we believe that the world is doomed, that it was all for nothing, redemption, liberation, and renewal will meet us, greet us, and call us home.
Have hope. Let it fill you, sustain you, focus you, so that life in the waiting room will not be consumed with distraction and worry—but one of growth and courage as you savor all the delightful flavors, surprises, relationships, and wisdom that light up your life.
Let us stand and raise our heads before our Maker ready for liberation and redemption, or as we wait, at least, may we find joy in the fish tank tucked in the corner of the waiting room.
 New International Version (NIV)
 Meghan L. Good, The Bible Unwrapped: Making Sense of Scripture Today (Harrisonburg: APG Sales & Distribution, 2018), 176.
 Luke 21:34, my own summary/interpretation.
 Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, David E. Garland, pg. 837.
 A good book on this is “You Are What You Love” by James K. A. Smith
 David J Lose, “What Time Is It?: Preaching Advent in the Year of Luke,” Journal for Preachers 39, no. 1 (2015): 8–15.
Achtemeier, Elizabeth. “Luke 21:25-36.” Interpretation 48, no. 4 (October 1994): 401–4.
“Commentary on Luke 21:25-36 by Michal Beth Dinkler.” Accessed November 26, 2018. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3892.
Good, Meghan L. The Bible Unwrapped: Making Sense of Scripture Today. Harrisonburg: APG Sales & Distribution, 2018.
Lose, David J. “What Time Is It?: Preaching Advent in the Year of Luke.” Journal for Preachers 39, no. 1 (2015): 8–15.
Von Hagel, Thomas A. “A Eucharistic Interpretation of the Synoptic Apocalypse.” Logia 8, no. 3 (1999): 21–28.
“Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person - Alain de Botton - YouTube.” Accessed November 30, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DCS6t6NUAGQ.