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What To Do While Waiting
December 12, 1993

How many of you make lists--things-to-do lists? Especially in preparation for Christmas, many people make lists. Robert Fulghum makes a different list--a Things-To-Be list. He writes,

I usually draw up a heavy duty Things-To-Do list about this time of year.

I am black belt at lists. I even have lists of lists.

Seven pages of expectations that are in themselves enough to permanently destroy the spirit of Christmas.

But this year I started from somewhere else in my mind.

New list.

One page.

A Things-To-Be list.

Concentrating on the feelings I wanted to have,

The condition of mind and spirit I yearned for,

The quality of life I wanted to manifest,

The vibrations I wanted to give off to other people.

A Things-To-Be list for Christmas.

Then I boiled the list down into one word.

And then I wrote that word on a tiny piece of paper.

And then I wrapped that tiny piece of paper around a small candy cane.

And ate it.

List and all.

Shazam! Hark the Herald Angels Sing!

Oh sure, it's a little crazy. But since when is Christmas supposed to make sense?

I mean, who makes the rules and regulations about Christmas, anyway?

Who says it must be an orderly, organized affair?

Who is in charge of Christmas?

Me, that's who.

The Christmas-list eater.

I suppose you want to know what the one word was.

Nope. You got to work it out for yourself.

Like Christmas.

'Cause if it ain't inside you somewhere, all the lists in the world won't make it happen.

Here, have a candy cane on me.

We are talking about waiting this Advent, waiting for the Lord to come in a special way this Christmas. Waiting is not passive. Waiting is not sitting complacently with an empty mind. Waiting is an action. Waiting is preparing. Last week, I challenged us to do something this Advent, to take positive steps to bring in the Day of the Lord, to make the Day of the Lord happen. I called us to stop violence, to eradicate violence from our homes, the streets, and in international relations. In particular, I challenged you to stop buying goods from sponsors of violent TV programs, stop purchasing toy weapons and even go further and remove toy weapons from your home, stop purchasing and watching violent video games, and abolish spanking, a seemingly innocuous form of violence. I called us to do something constructive this Advent; to make a difference in our society.

This morning, the challenge is to be. Don't just stand there, do something is a familiar command. The reverse is just as valid. Don't just do something, stand there. This Advent, do more than look at what you do, look at who you are. This Advent, make a Things-to-Be list and narrow it down to one word. I guess it's not necessary to eat it, as Robert Fulghum did; but, do digest it in some manner so that it becomes a part of you. Make it a goal, a priority. Last week's Scripture lesson and this morning's lesson tell us what to do while waiting. In last week's lesson, Peter wrote, 2 Peter 3:11-12, Lead lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God. And Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, which we read this morning, 1 Thessalonians 5:16+, Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances...Do not quench the Spirit...hold fast to what is good, abstain from every form of sound and blameless.

I have further condensed these words into three words for consideration on your Things-To-Be list: good, spiritual and nonviolent. As we look at each word, be in prayer and ask God which word is your particular challenge this Advent. While you are waiting for the Lord this Advent, be good, be spiritual, and be nonviolent.

First, be good! Lead lives of holiness and godliness, hold fast to what is good, abstain from every form of evil, be sound and blameless. Look at how you live your life. Are you an example of morality? Are you an example of Christian ethics? Are you good? What does it mean to be good? At the least, minimal standard of conduct for a Christian is living the Ten Commandments. The first four commandments deal with our relationship with God, the last six commandments deal with basic morality. Can you name them? Honor your father and your mother. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not lie. You shall not covet. Jesus summarized the Ten Commandments into two: You shall love the Lord, and you shall love your neighbor. Loving your neighbor means you shall not kill, commit adultery, steal, lie or covet. These commandments are the basics of civilized morality. When the world sees how you live, can they see a model for themselves, an example for themselves?

A young couple got involved in a church where there was a lot of shouting and clapping for Jesus. They tried to get Grandma to go to church with them. They tried to convince her that their church was better than hers. They said, "You should have seen it. The Holy Spirit was really there!" Grandma kept rocking and didn't say a word. "And, Grandma," they said, "you should have seen the preacher. He really got with it. He was screaming at the top of his voice and the people were popping up like popcorn to praise the Lord. It was unbelievable!" And Grandma kept rocking and didn't say a word. Finally they asked, "Grandma, what are you thinking?" Grandma kept rocking, but finally spoke, "Honey, let me just put it this way. I don't care how loud they shout, and I don't care how high they jump. It's what they do when they come back down that counts."

She had it right. The test of anyone's faith is how you live your life on a day-to-day basis. Is your relationship with Christ making a difference in how your live your life? Or, is there some cleaning up to do? Are there some changes that need to be made? Is there some repenting that needs to be done, being sorry and resolving to turn around. This Advent, while you are waiting, be good!

Secondly, be spiritual. Do not quench the Spirit, wrote Paul. The NIV says, Do not put out the Spirit's fire. Paul also prayed, May the God of peace sanctify you through and through. Sanctify is an old Methodist term. John Wesley used it. Early Methodists preached salvation and sanctification. They were called Holiness Christians. When I was a youth, I often went to the Red Rock Camp Meeting in the summer. Holiness Methodist preachers called us to the altar. You went to the altar one evening to get saved, and the next night you went to the altar to get sanctified. Salvation means to accept the grace of God, to accept what Christ has done for you. Sanctification means to surrender yourself, to give yourself wholly and completely to God, to empty yourself, so God can fill you with the Holy Spirit, so God can sanctify you through and through. Without reservation, without holding anything back, say to the Lord, "I am yours. Do with me as you will. Use me as you will. Fill me with your Spirit and make me wholly yours."

Do not put out the Spirit's fire. Let the Spirit burn. Be open to the working of God in your life. Let God love you. Hear his call. In our lesson Paul tells us how we keep the Spirit burning. He said, Pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances. The goal of spiritual discipline is to be so in touch with God, so in tune with God, that your every breath is like a prayer. Every act you do, every thought you think, every word you say, every breath you take, becomes a prayer. That is the goal. The content of most of our prayers should be gratitude. Give thanks continually. Praise God continually. While driving, while eating, while cleaning, while working, sing God's praises. Breathe prayers of gratitude and praise.

In verse 16, Paul said, Rejoice always. Rejoicing always is slightly different from giving thanks in all circumstances, because rejoicing is a gift. Joy is a gift. Joy is not something we can force ourselves to do. Joy is not a discipline, it is a gift. Praying and giving continual thanks are disciplines, but joy is a gift from God. We can praise and give thanks; God gives us joy.

How is your spiritual life this Advent? Should your Things-To-Be list include giving more attention to your spiritual life this Advent? Have you been saved and sanctified? Do you know for sure you are a Christian? Do you know you have been redeemed by Christ? Have you received the gift of salvation? Have you received the Holy Spirit? Are you sanctified? Is your prayer life rich, full, and rewarded with joy?

The third word is nonviolent. I urged us last week to take a stand for nonviolence. Nonviolence begins inside ourselves. Living nonviolently begins with an interior attitude. May the God of peace sanctify you, wrote Paul. The God of peace, the God of shalom, calls us in this day to live nonviolently. Anger is unavoidable, but we can control ourselves from expressing anger in a violent manner. Frustration is unavoidable, but we do not have to express that frustration aggressively towards other people. If we are to rid our homes, our streets, our community, and our world of senseless violence, we must begin with ourselves. Do you need to take some steps this Advent, in the season of peace, to find peace in your own heart and live nonviolently?

As I worked on this sermon, I decided I would change the closing hymn. Rather than sing what is printed in the bulletin, let's sing

Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.

With God our creator, children all are we.

Let us walk with each other in perfect harmony.

(Invitation: Which word is speaking to you this morning? Which word summarizes your Things-To-Be list? Please rip a small corner from the bulletin and write the word, or another if God is laying another word on you. Be good, be spiritual, be nonviolent.)

© 1993 Douglas I. Norris