Actively waiting in Advent.
Sermon given at the 9.15am service, Christ Church Downend, December
1, 2013- First Sunday of Advent. The Bible readings were Isaiah 2: 1 – 5,
Matt. 24: 36 – 44, Romans 13: 11 – 14.
I began by turning an egg timer over and, without saying anything,
stood and watched it empty.
You know, it is sometimes said we are a nation of queuers. Still,
waiting isn’t always easy. Even if we know what we are waiting for –
for me to start speaking, for the sermon to begin – the wait for it to
happen, and the delay in it occurring, can cause uncertainty,
restlessness, distraction, confusion maybe, perhaps even dismay.
I wonder if you have ever been in a restaurant where, after sitting
you down, the serving staff seem to disappear, leaving you forlornly
sat with a menu, doing your best to indicate you are ready to order,
desperately trying to get their attention. You know what you want.
You can read about it on the text in front of you. But how long will
you have to wait before you can actually taste it? Before you can have
what you are longing for? The wait can be infuriating, particularly if
you have two hungry children or, if you are my wife, one hungry and
Earlier this week, I was running late for work. Actually, I wasn’t
running at all, and that, in fact, was the problem: I do now sometimes
run to work but on this day I intended to take the bus. However, I
was late. Now, what I normally do is go to the stop outside St. James’
church in Mangotsfield, not the stop outside Cleeve Rugby Club that
is actually the closer to my house. Why? Because the farther is in a
cheaper fare stage, I am a cheap skate, and so the little extra walk
saves me a little money. But, not that day; because I was late. And so I
got to the closer bus stop relieved to see the other passengers still
there, waiting. One, I discovered, has recently had a daughter so we
chatted a little about life as a new parent. And we chatted about a few
other things too but gradually the conversation turned to silence as
we waited. And waited. And got very cold because it was not a warm
morning. Until half an hour after it was due to arrive the bus
remained conspicuous by its absence and we collectively gave up,
taking a different bus instead.
We had tired of waiting. In fact, we no longer believed that our bus
would ever arrive.
It is the little things that annoy. Waiting for a bus, waiting for a meal –
it can be frustrating. Why? I guess because the timing is out of our
hands. It is out of our control. We are waiting but do not actually
know when what we are seeking will arrive. So we get discouraged,
or dispirited, or disinterested even though, in the greater scheme of
things, these things are really fairly trivial and not worth getting too
But what if we are waiting for something altogether more important?
Something – someone – altogether more profound? What if, in a
world tormented, divided by war and conflict, by greed and injustice,
by intolerance and inequality, by pollution and poverty, by fighting
and fear, by darkness and dismay, by hunger and hurt, by starvation
and sorrow, by lawlessness and lovelessness… what if, we are
waiting for a time when people will walk together, guided by a
common light, when disputes will be settled and swords put away,
when the soldiers will rest and not train for war anymore.
How long then should we wait? 30 minutes? One hour? One week?
One year? One lifetime, if that’s what it takes?
It’s quite easy for me to stand here and say, “yes! I will wait. I will
wait on the Lord. I will wait night and day until He returns.” But, in
practice, I can be easily distracted. I can lose faith. I can lose heart.
You will remember, I am sure, the parable of the sower (Matt. 13):
some seed fell on the path where the birds ate it; some fell on rock
where it initially flourished but then withered away; some was
choked by thorns; some produced a good crop. It’s a powerful story
but I think, for me, it may be a little too clear cut. I find the reality, in
my life, is that the seed moves between different places: sometimes it
is on the path, sometimes on the rock, sometimes it is amongst the
thorns and sometimes – well, I hope so – it grows well.
God forgives. Christ inspires. The Holy Spirit guides and refines us.
But we need to do more than just wait. To do more than just
passively receive the seed and hope it will grow. We need to act; we
need to be; we need to do. We don’t just wait in faith. We live in faith.
We live out our faith, in our individual conduct and the way we live
amongst others. The Apostle Paul writes:
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love
one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The
commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not
murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever
other command there may be, are summed up in this one command:
“Love your neighbour as yourself.” Love does no harm to a
neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.
And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already
come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is
nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the
day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put
on the armour of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not
in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and
debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves
with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the
desires of the flesh.
The time is coming, when, as Isaiah described it, “the mountain of the
Lord’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it
will be raised above the hills and all nations will stream to it.”
But don’t just sit back and wait, says Paul. Clothe yourselves with the
Lord Jesus Christ. And, having done so, go out and love your
neighbour as yourself.
I may have said this before in a sermon so forgive me if I am
becoming repetitious. Either way, some of the best advice I have ever
heard is to live each day as though it were you last. It sounds a bit
morbid – literally, in fact – but actually it is liberating because it puts
things into perspective: is this argument really worth having? Is this
purchase really necessary? Maybe I could buy The Big Issue today
rather than convincing myself I will return to buy it tomorrow. Yes, I
will take time to help you. Perhaps I should return that person’s call.
No, I didn’t like what she said or did to me but – you know what? – I
forgive them. I could be a little more patient. I will watch my
language around other people. I will avoid gossip and try and see the
good in people. Yes, I will spend a little time seeking the presence and
guidance of God.
I am not suggesting I always succeed. I am more than capable of
being incredibly self-centred, self-serving and selfish. But I do try and
remember: this day could be my last. So what would I like my last
actions to be? How would I like to be remembered? If I was taken,
right now, from here to the gates of the eternal kingdom, how would I
want to answer if God asked me, “what have you just done?”
Keep watch, says Matthew, because you do not know what day your
Lord will return. It probably won’t be today. It probably won’t be
tomorrow either. But it could be. We simply don’t know. Matthew
writes, “About that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in
heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father […] Therefore keep watch
[…] you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an
hour when you do not expect him.”
Today is the first Sunday of Advent. The word comes from the Latin,
adventus, translated as coming. And for us, as Christians, that word –
coming – has more than one meaning.
Firstly, Advent is a period when we take ourselves back, as it were, to
immerse ourselves in the richness of the Christmas story: in the
lineage of Christ from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, on to David and
Solomon, on to Joseph and Jesus; in the Song of Mary, her faith, her
trust, her belief; in the support of her husband; in the long,
uncomfortable journey to Bethlehem; in the birth into poverty; in the
faith of the shepherds and the Magi; in the angel chorus of
celebration and worship; in the jealousy and brutality of Herod.
Secondly, Advent is a period when we cast our minds forward to the
time, a second coming, when God himself will wipe every tear from
our eyes; when there will be no more death or mourning or crying or
pain, for the old order of things has passed away (Revelation 21).
Thirdly, Advent is a period when we reflect upon Christ and allow
Him to come not in the past nor in the future but today into our lives
– to clothe us, to teach us, to help us live in a way that is testimony to
all that is good, and loving, and compassionate and just. To be not just
inheritors of God’s kingdom but also developers of His kingdom: light
in darkness, peace in conflict, love in hatred, hope in fear.
Advent is a period of waiting. But it is a period of actively waiting as
we seek Christ in our lives. We do not just sit back. We come forward:
to that baby in the manger; to that teacher in the temple; to that
healer in the crowds; to that saviour on the cross; to the Son of God.
Don’t just wait, my friends. Be alert. Be ready. Be willing to love as
you are so dearly loved.
It is, as I say, the first Sunday of Advent, and also the 1st of December.
With that in mind, may I be the first to wish you all, a blessed and