“What are you waiting for?”
Text: Jeremiah 33:14-16
A sermon preached by Rev. Julie Emery
Larchmont Avenue Church
November 28, 2009
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”
The evening was crisp and windy. As Katie crossed the street she looked down to check her phone for the time. She would just make it before the post office closed. Katie rounded the corner and fit her arms in tightly around her body as she mounted the concrete steps. Normally she would have had her mom drop the application off. But today, she wanted to be the one to take it there. It was the last one. The last one in a long line of applications, the last essay, the last list of accomplishments and characteristics, the last one; It was over. She walked up to the big metal mailbox and swung open the drawer, slipping the flat envelope in. She heard the swish and the thud as it hit the inside of the mailbox, opened it again as she superstitiously peeked in to see if she could see it. Now all she could do was wait.
Wait. Katie had spent the last years planning and praying; taking on volunteer roles and jobs to fill out her application: the trip to Nicaragua that had been the foundation for her main essay, the summer jobs as a camp counselor, the clubs, the violin lessons. All told there were fifteen schools she had applied to – more than most, but not out of the ordinary.
How long had it been? As Katie headed home she started to think about how long she had been thinking about college, talking about college, dreaming about college. It seemed that her whole life had been spent preparing for this next thing. The future. Now all she could do was wait, hope, pray. She offered a prayer that went something like, “Please God, please…” Her pace slowed down as she felt the air smooth around her body, slipping around her as if her clothes were somehow lighter. She noted every step felt stronger, her posture straightening, her cheeks tightening into a smile. All she could do now was wait.
Tom set the box down and looked at his watch inadvertently. It was a habit. He didn’t expect to hear back from his interview today – knew it would take a few days – but looking at his watch was this reflex he had developed since he had begun interviewing again. Somehow connecting with the time made it seem like he was doing something. The waiting was harder to bear when there was nothing to do.
He had gotten to see Katie play the violin more – that was something new. And he had started to help out with Josh’s hockey practice. Before he was often out of town or working late, never with a consistent enough schedule to commit to regular practices. And while years ago he had made it a point to get back home in time to see at least some games or concerts, in the last couple years he had let it slide a bit. He had let lots of things slide. The economy had been so precarious that everyone had been putting in long hours. Then, it felt like desperation – like the other shoe was going to drop at any minute. And then…it dropped.
The months he had been out of work had at first been oppressive with the stress of finding something new. But now, he had grown accustomed to the space that had developed. He had grown accustomed to the waiting. He had built in a cushion, new they could survive on less if they tightened up, and so he gave himself the space to dream, the space to wonder what new seed might take root and grow.
With this flurry of interviews right before the holidays, he found himself more hopeful than he had been before – hopeful in a way that was different. Not anxious or desperate; not grasping at something that seemed never to materialize. But thankful for the moments he had with his family, grateful for the space that had been given him to really wonder what he was supposed to be doing, what God was doing. Hopeful in a way that was awake, especially now. And all he could do now was wait.
Lynn rolled over and looked at the clock. It was 4 am and she had been up for an hour trying to get back to sleep. It wasn’t going to happen. She slipped carefully out of bed and tiptoed downstairs to put the coffee on. Her hand moved instinctively over her side, still a little sore from the biopsy. The results should be back tomorrow – they had promised. So she had the entire day and a half to wait. Wait for news, wait for verdict, wait for future.
Lynn and Tom had talked about the possibilities, but she had downplayed it even more because of his interviews. They had not told the kids – no need to worry them yet, and they had wanted Katie to be able to celebrate the end of her applications. She took a deep, slow breath as the coffee pot began to gurgle. She fed the dog and let him out the back. The sky was still dark. The wind pushed at the windows.
To kill time Lynn ticked through the day ahead and the places everyone needed to be, she began a grocery list, thought about starting lunches. It was 4:30 am. Then, slowly, her thoughts turned again to the results. She imagined what it might be like if the verdict was not good. Imagined the kids – how Katie would respond, with college just ahead. Whether or not Joshua would understand, really. She imagined Tom – how he would take it, this after such a hard year. Imagined friends – who she would tell and when.
She forced herself too to picture the news as good. It was harder. Somehow she knew that no matter what happened this scare had changed her a bit, had made her more aware, more present. She wondered if it would stick. Her mind halted, suddenly, on each of the faces of her family. She saw them laughing together last night at the dinner table – Tom’s great belly laugh that shakes the house, Katie’s beautiful smile, Josh’s erupting giggle. She saw them laughing together –caught up in joy, in the present, in the now. She felt the emotion well up in her throat and tighten there.
“Mommy?” Lynn heard Josh call from his room. She wiped at her eyes and took a sip of her coffee before she whispered back to him and went softly up the steps into his room. The dawn sunlight was just angling through his window, casting a soft glow at the edge of his bed. He was still so young. Lynn and Tom had been surprised when they got pregnant again after so many years with Katie, but it had been such a miracle too – to live with a child in the house again.
“What’s up babe?” Lynn said to Josh through the receding darkness. “It’s still pretty early…”
“Is it Christmas yet?” Josh said with excitement in his voice. Lynn smiled. She noted the anticipation in his eyes, the hope that hovered in his voice.
“Not yet.” She whispered, and then remembered… “But come with me – I’ve got something special for you.”
She lifted Josh out of his bed still snuggled in his blanket and carried him downstairs where she had begun to open the box Tom had set by the mantel. She moved a chair over to the mantel so Josh could reach it, and handed him what looked like a ball of paper.
“What is it?” he asked her.
“Just open it – but be careful not to drop it.”
Joshua slowly unfurled the ball between his hands until it revealed a small wooden figurine. His sleepy eyes brightened instantly. “A shepherd!” He exclaimed, and he reached to place it carefully on the cleared mantel.
Lynn and Josh slowly unwrapped each figurine, marveled at it’s beauty, turned it around to decide which it was. This is the angel, this is Joseph, here is a donkey, here is a sheep…
Quietly behind them, Tom and Katie had wandered downstairs to watch, rubbing eyes and curling up together on the couch. They watched as Josh placed each figure carefully in its spot, smiled as he reminded each of them the story they represented – the one they all knew and loved. Soon the paper was scattered on the floor and there was one left to unwrap, and Josh opened the paper with such care you would have thought he was holding glass. His face was filled with hope as the piece revealed itself, but then he stopped with a look of confusion.
“But…” “Where is Jesus?”
Katie was the one to answer, with the care and concern of a big sister. “He hasn’t come yet,” she said, as she lifted Josh up into her arms and helped him place the manger at the center of the scene. “He doesn’t come until Christmas…we have to wait.” She looked softly at Josh.
“But he will come. I promise…he will come soon.”
In the name of the One who comes. Amen.