One of the most fascinating plays I ever read is Waiting for Godot, by the Irish playwriter Samuel Beckett. Published in 1948, the year I was born, this play basically argues that humanity is waiting for “Godot,” a Messiah-like reality that could fix everything that went wrong, yet Godot never shows up. The three characters in the play wait and wait in vain in their dreary existence, and to highlight such a sense of desolation and hopelessness, the only prop on the empty, dry stage is a dead tree.
For Beckett –as for many others during those excruciating days of postwar — “God” is no more than a human construction, a figment of our imagination, an idea, a fantasy, the kind of stories our own grandchildren invent every day during their playtime. Nothing real, for sure, and for that reason, not “God,” but rather “Godot,” an empty, unresponsive reality that we have invented to feel better about everything.
From this perspective, all our cherished Christian beliefs and traditions, including Advent and Christmas, ought to be dismantled immediately so that we stop deceiving ourselves. “Listen well . . . don’t waste your time! Even if you blow a billion candles of Hope like this one [pointing to the Hope candle by the altar], God is not going to show up!”
Before we dismiss Beckett’s thesis as absurd, let’s think for a moment about the many people today – our own families, maybe — so broken by adversity, they too may feel that hoping for God to show up to “fix” their lives is absurd.
What about yourself – don’t you from time to time feel so overwhelmed by your own struggles that you suspect your own wait has become senseless? “God will never show up – I have been waiting in vain! It is what it is.” And what about those illiterates, rustic, overworked and underpaid shepherds near Bethlehem of Judea?
Did they harbor any real hopes that their lives might be different? Chances are, the night the angel of the Lord stopped by their flocks to tell them, “I am bringing you good news of great joy,” those shepherds simply answered, “Wait a second, Mr. Strange Messenger, don’t foul us again with more “Godot” news!”
Friends, whether in those distant biblical days, or in Beckett’s post-war days, or in our own post-modern days, there will always be men and women who believe that waiting for God makes no sense at all. But we know better, for we know that God has already showed up — from Genesis to Revelations our Bible is the history of so many people who met in person with God. And we are surrounded by so many wonderful brothers and sisters who certainly know that God keeps showing up in our lives every day.
That’s the reason we partake together, and sing together, and share the peace with one another, and today we open our arms this wide to welcome wonderful folks into our own manger, where there is always room for everybody. We certainly know God will never stop showing up, coming by to meet us right there where our needs and hopes intersect every day. In fact, God comes to us many times throughout our lives if our hearts are receptive and our eyes are open.
In January of 1948, the same year Beckett’s play was published, God showed up to a young couple in Argentina who began their pastoral ministry the day after their wedding. Did they honeymoon? Of course, they did – a very long journey by train, third class, to a then remote region in the jungle by the Parana River near the border with Brazil and Paraguay.
Then, an apocalyptic 4-hour ride on the mud and under the rain to their destination — their very first church, with a very humble parsonage behind the church – just one bedroom, a very small kitchen, no electrical power, and a latrine some 20 yards near the swamp. That young couple, barely 22, was sent there by the Methodist bishop to bring hope to fishermen and shepherds, mostly poor Easter European refugees displaced by the Big War.
Among them, many Jews running away from Russian pogroms and horrendous antisemitism. Quite a pastoral challenge, yet that young couple was sustained all the time by the realization that God is for real if we just let God and let go.
Almost 30 years later, that pastor preached on his own son’s ordination as a Methodist minister. To close his sermon, he quoted one his favorite passages, this one from prophet Isaiah: “Those who wait upon the Lord” — a classic Advent theme — shall walk, and not faint.”
Reflecting on his own spiritual crisis that brought his youth to the brink of total collapse when he was 20, and how the Risen Christ had showed up in his life to make him a new creature, that pastor reassured us all that that God never gives up on us. That God is always coming by to meet us right there where our needs and our hopes intersect every day.
And such is the meaning of Advent, my friends – a time in our lives to remember and celebrate that God is always adventing, so to speak, always coming to us with renewed hopes and enough strength so that we learn to hope even against hope, as the apostle Paul used to say.
Friends, open yourselves to the possibility that God is going to do it again.
Wait with the same intense expectation our children and grandchildren wait for their birthdays or for Santa. Wait with the same sense of joyful anticipation that inspires and blesses our time together in this sacred manger where there is plenty room for everyone who waits in the Lord.
Wait always with the Promise of Old ringing in your hears, the same promise that one day became so real for that young couple – Alberto and Dora, my parents — and told them how to make the Risen Christ so real to others on the road. The same Promise of Old –remember?
Would you please repeat after me?
“Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint”