Updated 20th November 2021
Advent Sunday, 28th November, Liz Gregory-Smith
I don’t know how you get on if the bus doesn’t turn up? My feelings alternate between frustration and panic, at least until I remember there are good ways to occupy my mind – there is a beautiful view, as it happens, from our bus stop. Then what about friends still waiting for an operation, what about thousands waiting to see if they can return to flood damaged homes? Waiting can indeed be a hard and uncomfortable place. Can it also be a time of hopeful expectation, like children getting excited for Christmas? Our Advent readings acknowledge the real hardship involved in waiting, but they also they encourage joy and hope.
In today’s Psalm, 25, the word ‘waiting’ in the different translation is interchangeable with ‘hope’. In verse 3, “None who wait for you will be put to shame” or “No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame”. Or verse 5, “For you I wait all the day long” or “My hope is in you all day long”. So waiting with God, waiting for God brings hope. This is a waiting that makes a difference. I may be waiting to hear the results of a medical test, I may be waiting for the end of this Covid virus with my mind fixed on the idea of some return to normality, to the things I enjoyed and found worthwhile before the pandemic. If I wait with God, can I expect some new perspective? All of us have done some waiting over the past months. For those isolating it has been extremely hard. Perhaps the challenge now for our churches is to come together in prayer to wait with God for the new future for us.
The Gospel passage from Luke 21 continues Jesus’ conversations with his disciples about the horrendous events that would take place leading to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple – these happened in AD 70. Fr. Carl preached two weeks ago on the parallel passage in Mark 13. The time would be full of fear, but Jesus’ followers would be given strength and wisdom to stand by their faith. The terrible event that marked the end of the Temple religious system was actually the victory sign that now God’s meeting place with his people was through the risen and ascended Jesus. The Kingdom of God was near. The words of Jesus seem to extend to the long waiting time in which we live as members of the church. This church must stand for Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life through the centuries of war that have continued until now. The urgency of Jesus’ words, “watch and pray” are as relevant today as ever, when today, as then, many “faint with terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world”. Can we hold in tension our experience and limited understanding with Jesus’ words that stretch our imagination almost to breaking point, “the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory”?
Our best preparation is surely to fix our minds on all we know of Jesus, the Son of Man’s first coming. Advent, we know, means ‘coming’. The advertisements leave us in no doubt that Christmas is coming. As Christians we have the opportunity to reflect in our preparations on the most special birth at Bethlehem, to imagine that waiting time for the Virgin Mary, a time mixed with fear and joy as she hurried to meet her cousin Elizabeth. As she poured out praise to God she remembered God’s promise of mercy, of loving kindness to her ancestor, Abraham, and his descendents forever.
What might help
my Advent waiting time to be centred, like Mary’s, on God? I’d
like to share thoughts based on four suggestions made in a talk by our
Archdeacon of Durham, the Ven. Libby Wilkinson. These correspond to
four characteristics of Jesus to aim for:
order for Advent, but in this waiting time we are not alone. We are
waiting with God. We can watch and pray with the Psalmist, “Guide
me in your truth and teach me for you are God, my saviour, and my hope
is in you all the day long”.