"Giving Hope" (Optimist Christmas Breakfast)
I want to talk with you for a few moments this morning about one of your least favorite things - waiting. Waiting . . . waiting at the traffic light . . . waiting, then honking, “C’mon, the light’s green. Put down your phone and drive!” I wonder, how long does a person live in Northern Virginia before they become a honker? You know where I come from, the Ozarks of Missouri, the only time people honk is just to say hello. Folks will honk at someone and just wave, “Hey, how you doing?” Around here, people honk all the time, but I’ve noticed if people wave at all, it’s usually a different kind of gesture.
Oh well, no one likes to wait. We hate it, don’t we? Waiting . . . stuck in traffic on the beltway or jammed up on 66 . . . waiting for the Metro after work or after a Nats game . . . waiting for your flight that’s been delayed, again . . . waiting on your luggage, always the last bag to come up . . . waiting in line . . . Saturday at the grocery store . . . Friday night at the movies . . . just waiting . . . waiting for your wife to get ready to go . . . waiting for your husband to fix whatever needs fixing . . . waiting on your kids to load up their backpacks and get in the van . . . waiting for your teenager to come home at night . . . waiting at the doctor’s office . . . waiting at the car repair place. I’ve noticed these newer car dealerships have improved their waiting areas, trying to provide all the amenities, but you know what, it’s still just waiting, isn’t it?
Disney World invented a wonderful thing called a “Fast Pass.” You come by early or go online, get your fast pass, come back during the busy time and you don’t have to wait. It’s great, although you can count on getting some dirty looks from all those people still stuck in line. Don’t you wish life had a fast pass? Some special ticket that meant we never had to wait! That would be great, but of course even Disney can’t pull that one off.
Have you ever considered how much of life is waiting? Waiting to turn sixteen and get your license, waiting to leave home and be out on your own, waiting for that special someone to come along, waiting for that promotion at work. Long waits. Waiting for a young soldier to come home from the war, waiting on your test results from the doctor, waiting in an emergency room. Waiting. Still waiting. Waiting until you can finally retire. Waiting for the kids and the grandkids to visit once in a while . . . waiting for the grandkids to go back home so we can get some rest . . . more waiting. . . . Waiting in a nursing home, waiting for a visitor, any visitor, waiting for some attention, sometimes just waiting for the end of life.
I saw an interview the other day with a Syrian man who had his wife and small children in an overcrowded refugee camp in Eastern Europe. It reminded me how tragic and frustrating waiting can be, waiting for water, for food, for a safe place for his family to sleep, for some place to go. I could see the desperation on his face. Waiting.
Waiting at its worst. Waiting for your pain to ease, waiting for healing, waiting for grief to go away, waiting for a broken heart to heal, waiting for a prodigal to return, waiting for forgiveness, for a second chance. Waiting for a door to open and maybe it’s a door you have been pounding on for years. Waiting, waiting on God, still waiting, and it feels like forever.
It might surprise you to know that the Bible is all about waiting. The scripture always tells the truth about life, and the truth about waiting, especially what it means to wait on God. There’s old Abraham and Sarah waiting for decades for a promised child, until one day much to their amazement, the waiting was over, a bouncing baby boy.
The Hebrews knew a thing or two about waiting, four hundred years in bondage to Pharaoh in Egypt. Generations of slaves toiling under the desert sun waiting, waiting on deliverance, waiting on God until one day the waiting was over. Later on the Hebrews found themselves defeated, driven off their land, and carried off into exile in Babylon. And what did they do in Babylon for some 70 years? You guessed it. Waiting. Waiting to return. Waiting to rebuild, until one day the waiting was over.
And then came an even greater promise, the promise of a Messiah, a Savior, “Immanuel.” First came the promise and then the waiting, the long wait for the fulfillment of God’s words. Years, generations, even centuries, and then, one day, on that first Christmas, the waiting was over.
“Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
Time’s up! The waiting is over. The moment has finally arrived. In the fullness of time a Son is given. Christ is born. God has come to us. Immanuel, God with us in this world.
Christmas is, of course, a time of great anticipation, as much about waiting as it is about celebrating. I grew up the youngest of eight children and we always had to wait until Christmas morning to open gifts. Some of you liberals opened your gifts on Christmas Eve, but I never understood how that worked out. If Santa comes on Christmas Eve, how could we open our gifts until after the big guy shows up? Never made sense to me.
But the waiting, oh, the waiting, just about killed us. Lying awake, too excited to sleep, or pretending to be asleep so Santa wouldn’t skip us. Up at the crack of dawn, lined up at the top of the stairs, youngest to oldest, me first in line on Christmas morning. Then, there was more waiting, waiting for Dad to get around, to get shaved, to get dressed . . . are you kidding me? Of course, I didn’t know back then that Dad had been down in the basement all night putting everything together. C’mon! C’mon! Is it time? Is it time?
And then, and then, finally, the waiting was over. Thundering down the stairs. Our hopes fulfilled. Sheer joy. It was time to celebrate.
Did you know that in Hebrew the word for “wait” is also the word for “hope?” To wait is to hope. To hope is to wait. “They that wait upon the Lord will renew their strength, they that hope in the Lord will renew their strength.” Same meaning. The psalmist expressed this truth in his prayer:
"I wait for the LORD, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning . . . ." (Psalm 130:5-6 NIV) And so while we wait on God, we place our hope in God. To wait is to hope . . .
A Scottish minister once remarked, “The most profane word we can use is ‘hopeless.’ When you say a situation or person is hopeless, you are slamming the door in the face of God.”
I was thinking about the waiting and the hoping and your work as Optimists. Young people, so many youth in this world are waiting, waiting for a chance, waiting for a door to open, waiting for an opportunity to build a future, just waiting for the encouragement, the assistance, the direction they need in order to find their way in this world. Just waiting.
And here you are as Optimists, ready and able to turn their waiting into hope, to open doors, to make a way, to provide the needed resources. That’s the gift you are giving this Christmas and throughout the year – the gift of hope to those who are waiting. The mission statement of Optimists International says: “By providing hope and positive vision, Optimists bring out the best in kids.” By providing hope, what a wonderful gift you are giving.
So let us not grow weary in doing good or lose heart, even in a world that seems overwhelmed with waiting. We have a hope that is grounded in the goodness and faithfulness of God. So we must never give in or give up or give out. Instead, we give hope. Give hope this Christmas. Somewhere, someone is waiting.