Sunday, December 16, 2018

Waiting

A family was out vacationing at the lake one summer. Dad was working out by the boat house. Two of his sons, a 12-year old and a 3-year old were playing along the dock. The 12-year old was supposed to be watching his little brother, but he got distracted.

The 3-year old, little Billy, thought it would be a good time to check out the shiny aluminum fishing boat tied up at the end of the dock. So he went to the dock, put one foot on the boat, and one foot on the dock. He lost his balance and fell into the water which was about 6 feet deep.

The splash alerted the 12-yr old who let out a piercing scream. Dad came running from the boat house, jumped into the water, swam down, but unable to see anything, came up for air. Sick with panic, he went right back down into the murky water, and began to feel everywhere around the bottom. He couldn’t feel anything.

On his way up he felt little Billy's arms locked in a death grip on one of the posts of the dock, about 4 feet under water. Prying the boy's fingers loose, they burst up together through the surface to fill their lungs with life giving air.

Finally, when the adrenaline had stopped surging, and nerves had calmed down a little bit, the Father asked his son, “What on earth were you doing down there hanging onto the post so far under the water?” And little Billy’s answer was a classic, laced with the wisdom only a toddler could give. He said, "I was just waiting for you dad.”

This story should remind us of our psalm: “God indeed is my savior; I am confident and unafraid.  My strength and my courage is the LORD, and he has been my savior. With joy you will draw water at the fountain of salvation.” But in the case of little Billy, he was confident and unafraid because he knew his Dad would draw him from the water and save him.

That’s our job dads – and moms, uncles, aunts, grandparents, godparents, and mentors – to save our children at any age from drowning in sorrows, worries, and fear of failure and loss.  Too many of our children hold their breaths, as if under water, waiting for a rescue. We must be their saviors, and there is no better time to commit to that than during Advent – the season of hope and new beginnings.

This Third Sunday of Advent we do more than hope and wait.  This is Gaudete Sunday when we wear rose-colored vestments.  We light the rose candle that symbolizes joy. Today we rejoice!    And, we are to be kind, something especially important during Advent leading up to Christmas. Our second reading from Philemon gives us these commands.

 It begins:  “Brothers and sisters: Rejoice in the Lord always.  I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near…”

And so is Saint Nicholas who, according to the popular song, is coming to town, including Mashpee.    That’s a great Yuletide message delivered by Saint Nick and especially by Jesus.
He sees us when we’re sleeping. He knows when we’re awake.  He knows when we’ve been kind or not. So be kind for goodness sake!

Kindness also is the message delivered in our Gospel reading. When the crowds asked John the Baptist, “What should we do?”  John replied, “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none.  And whoever has food should do likewise.” There is no substitute for our kindness that brings joy to those on the receiving end of our generosity, care, and compassion.

Many of us already have shown that kindness by taking envelopes off our giving tree.  Father Healey’s approach to Church decorations speaks to kindness. No lights and decorations to celebrate the Christmas season until we give to those who need our help.  Then the starkness of the altar shifts to beauty with lights, flowers, and our manger scene awaiting the birth of Jesus – the Christ-child.

Our Gospel describes this wait. It reads:  “Now the people were filled with expectation for Christ their savior.” John the Baptist said the mighty one for whom they waited, and now we wait, will baptize us with the Holy Spirit and with fire – not with water.

Most of us likely are confused by this sort of baptism not involving water. But haven’t we all heard the expression “Baptism by fire?” In military terms it means a soldier’s first time in battle. It also means our learning something the hard way through a challenge or difficulty.  Fiery trials that involve suffering and pain can make us stronger and transform us for the better, not worse.

Perhaps that’s why we hear Luke quote John the Baptist as saying about Jesus: “…His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Our trials experienced through baptism by fire are like those winnowing fans separating the wheat from the chaff.  The wheat symbolizes what we learn through challenge, difficulty, and our courage.  We gain strength from that wheat.  The chaff symbolizes our weaknesses, fear, and cowardice.  That unquenchable fire – our Holy Spirit – burns that chaff away.

On this third Sunday of Advent so close to Christmas, if we listen very carefully we might hear God say to all of us little Billy’s – and to all of us little Betsy’s: “What on earth are you doing down in the darkness hanging onto those posts so far under the water?"  We might all simply reply:  “Lord, we’re just waiting for your Son.”

Deacon David Pierce

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