The Rev'd Robert Warren Isaiah 40:21-31
Epiphany 5 - Year B
Have you been waiting long?
I might ask this question if I already knew the answer - that we had agreed to meet at ten o'clock and now I've come running, out of breath, to the appointed street corner at 10:20. You are sheltering from the rain under an awning. You look bored to tears. You're shifting your weight from one foot to the other. Have you been waiting long? Yes. Precisely 20 minutes. What have you been doing in the interim? Nothing. I've been waiting.
The reading from Isaiah this week says that "...they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles". This might mean that the eventual arrival of the Lord on the scene will have been worth the wait, the rain, the inactivity and the long frustration. It could mean, however, that "waiting" is a more active pursuit than merely standing under an awning in the rain, puffing away at a sodden cigarette and staring down the street.
The verb in Hebrew has both a literal and a figurative meaning. "Waiting" here means, literally, to braid together a cord out of various strands or to weave something together. Figuratively, it means to strive after insight, to discern something solid amidst the confusing things of the world, to seek out the open door after one has been closed in your face. It is quite active and expansive - not passive and exclusive at all.
The reading appears towards the end of the 40th chapter which is a grand description of everything that God is doing in the world and with his people and it has already contained one word specifically critical of those who stand around grumbling that God has not come up with the the timely goods they were expecting. They complain that "my way is hid from the Lord and my right is disregarded by my God". Their inclination is to stand in the rain wondering why their number has not come up. To whom the Lord gives a pointed reminder that he is at work in the world. He is raising up the valleys and causing the mountain heights to tumble and causing life to appear in the wilderness. He is building community and giving second chances to sinners.
You were waiting, perhaps, for something particular. You will do nothing until that very ship comes in or that particular letter comes tumbling through the mail slot. But you are not waiting - not in the sense that this Sunday's reading would prescribe: That sort of waiting would require that your eyes were wide open and not focussed narrowly on what you thought you were entitled to. God is at work in the world. Find your place in that work. Discern what has an enduring value. Be part of what God is about in the world. It will be for you both strength and wisdom. God will surpass your expectations.