Every Sunday for nearly three years Walter had a routine. Just before 10:00 AM he would open the doors to Epworth and prepare the church for worship. If the weather was cold, he would build a fire in the old wood stove. If it was hot he would open all the windows and distribute the hand fans with a picture of Jesus on one side and an ad for a local funeral home on the other.
Next, Walter would open the Bible located on top of the wooden pulpit and read the selected scripture for that week. Then it would be time for prayer. Often there were folks in the community included on Walter’s list. The latest national and world news would be mentioned. But always, Walter ended every prayer with a plea for God to remember and bless his beloved church.
Every Sunday, Walter had a routine but what makes this story so unique is that with very few exceptions, Walter began and ended the Sunday morning worship service… alone. Alone? Why? Many years ago, Epworth church was built on land donated by a neighboring farmer but if for any reason they stopped meeting regularly, if Walter stopped opening the church doors every Sunday the property would revert to the original owners… Epworth church would cease to exist.
So what is the big deal? If Walter is the only one bothering to attend, let him go somewhere else or stay at home. Why not face the inevitable and allow Epworth to quietly disappear? What harm would it do? For Walter, it was a big deal. God had a divine purpose for his life and for the church he loved. But for now, Walter must be patient, be faithful… and wait? Wait for what?
“To wait” is not one of my favorite verbs. I define wait as “waste”… as in waste of time. I become frustrated just waiting in line at a grocery store. I bought a new computer because it claimed to be faster with less waiting time. So, according to my definition of wait, Walter was wasting his time at Epworth, refusing to face reality by waiting for something to happen that would never happen.
Walter waited. Not me! I would move on. So would most of you. Yet, you and I, in our impatience and lack of faith would have missed the miracle of Epworth church!
In another time: For nearly eight hundred years, prophets foretold the coming of the Messiah.
† “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah are only a small village in Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you…” (Micah 5:2)
† “All right then, the Lord himself will choose the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel – God is with us.” (Isaiah 7:14)
† “But he was wounded and crushed for our sins. He was beaten that we might have peace. He was whipped and we were healed!” (Isaiah 53:5)
But for eight hundred long years the people of God waited. Generations were born, grew up, lived and died never knowing or seeing the promised Messiah of God. What were they waiting for? No one really knew. Yet, to fully value the significance of Christmas we must understand why “waiting” is such a necessary part of serving God.
In Luke, a man named Simeon who is described as righteous and devout spent most of his time in the temple… waiting: “He was filled with the Holy Spirit and he eagerly expected the Messiah to come…” (2:25) Day after day, year after year, Simeon was faithful in his task. Why?
In the same part of Luke, there was also a prophet named Anna. She became a widow at an early age and spent most of her adult life waiting: “She was now eighty-four years old. She never left the Temple but stayed there day and night, worshipping God with fasting and prayer.” (2:37)
What were Anna and Simeon waiting for? For that, you too must wait… until you read part 2 by clicking here. The answer will help you understand what happened at Epworth church and appreciate the meaning of Christ’s birth. Also, read the second chapter of Luke and have a blessed New Year.