Sorry, dear Readers. I always have great intentions of posting regularly and then never do! Perhaps I should have tried the post-every-day-in-Advent that some of my bloggy friends have done. But I’m not going to.
I’ve posted over at Fat Dormouse but here has been thin on the ground. And it is still thin on the ground! I’m going to cheat here by posting my sermon for tomorrow. My rector is in Canada, meeting his new granddaughter, so I am leading the service and preaching. I have recycled an Advent sermon preached over 10 years ago (but updated) so it hasn’t been a too arduous task.
So…here it is: THE WAITING TIME: a sermon for Advent 2
Today is the second Sunday in Advent, the season when we look forward to and prepare for Christmas, the coming of Jesus to earth as a human. But it is also a time when we look forward to the Second Coming of our Lord, in glory, as foretold by the Prophets so long ago.
Traditionally, Christians have allocated a theme to each Sunday in Advent. Some use the words of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love, reminding us of those values that Christ brought into the world, and it is those themes that we have used today when we lit the Advent Candle. Other traditional themes reflect our fore bearers in the Christian story: On the first Sunday in Advent, our thoughts turn towards the Patriarchs, those great men of early Judaism who trusted God to fulfil his promises. On the second Sunday come the Prophets, who spoke God’s word, assuring His people that they were not forgotten, and speaking of the great works to be done in God’s name. Around this time we think most of Isaiah, who speaks moving words about the coming of the Messiah, the Wonderful Counsellor, the Prince of Peace. The following week comes John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, who looked forward to the Messiah and recognised how he would come. And finally, the Sunday before Christmas we think of Mary, as she waited patiently for the birth that would change the world.
And the common theme that joins all these people together is waiting. They were all waiting and looking forward to a great event. They were preparing themselves for something momentous. For the Patriarchs and the Prophets they may have seen this as being far away; for John the Baptist and for Mary they were aware of the closeness of the events for which they were waiting.
Our readings today echo that waiting, that longing for the coming of something wonderful, yet also something awful – in the old meaning of full of awe. Malachi prophesies the coming of the Messiah, but he warns us too in the words who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? Yes, he is coming, but He will be as the refiner’s fire. In the Gospel reading we heard the echoes of the prophet Isaiah calling on us to play a part in bringing about the Kingdom of God. Prepare the way of the Lord, he says, make his paths straight.
And our responsive reading was the Song of Zechariah, a song uttered after the birth of his son, the Forerunner, John the Baptist. This also speaks of a waiting and longing for the coming of the Messiah, and all that this means…A mighty saviour who would save us…giving us knowledge of our salvation by the forgiveness of our sins…
We are so used to the Christmas story, to the characters of Elizabeth and Zechariah, of Joseph and Mary, that we forget ~ or do not realise ~ what they must have gone through before they accepted the peace of God, before they accepted the fact that they had been blessed.
Did Elizabeth ask “Why NOW? Why not twenty or thirty years ago, when I was full of energy? Why have I had to live through the ignominy of childlessness in my youth to be pregnant in my old age?”Did Zechariah wonder whether he would be able to understand the needs and wants of a growing child; would he be an adequate father?
What did it take for these two people, settled into their lives, to be shaken out of their childless old age, and pitched headlong into a totally alien situation?Was it truly a case of “As God wills let it be done.” ? Or did they question, and worry, and wonder?
And Joseph… How did he feel? Even after the visitation from the angel, what was his frame of mind? Remember, he too was older, maybe he had been married before, and now, taking on a woman carrying an illegitimate child… Was his an unquestioning acceptance? Or again, was he still wondering, and worrying.
And there was Mary, young, and seemingly disgraced by her pregnancy. In the Bible story, she accepts with joy the honour brought on her by God, the fact that she was carrying the Son of God… but afterwards, did she start to wonder whether she was going mad, imagining angels, and pregnancies? And when she began to show, how did she cope with the gossip, as she could hardly go round telling everyone that it was all right, it wasn’t an illegitimate baby, it was actually the Son of God… What were her thoughts? Her questions? Her worries?
Four people whose lives were totally and utterly turned upside down by God; they hardly knew what to think… How on earth, how, in heavens name, did they find peace in the Waiting time, in the Advent of their lives?
I can only think that it was through having implicit trust in God… Through the turmoil, through the upset, through the doubts and joys, through the incredible roller-coaster ride that was the year before Jesus’ birth, the four main players in the story held onto what they knew of their Lord: that he was loving, and good, and was by their side through it all. It was through the easily said, but difficult to do “Letting go and letting God” that they found the inner peace that they so desperately needed to sustain them through the waiting.
And this is what echoes through the earlier characters in the Advent tradition. Trust in God. The Patriarchs, Moses, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob – all of those great men and women who trusted that in all of their lives, whatever was happening, God was there, in control, at the helm. He would fulfil his promises. The prophets must have had a hard time of it – when it seemed that all the people of Israel were turning their back on God, and when the Prophets themselves were vilified and oppressed they had to believe that the message they were preaching was indeed from God and that it spoke of a better future. Yet through it all comes the trust that they had in God. And John the Baptist: he knew full well that what he was preaching was dangerous, and could lead to his death, but he continued, preaching against the evil that he saw around him, and preaching the Good News of the coming Kingdom of God. Then there is Mary, and her trust in the God who asked her to take part in the miraculous events that were to save humankind.
Trusting God: this is what we must do. We are in a waiting time, in more than one sense, and through it all we need to learn to let go of our human worries and cares, and to let God bring peace into the restlessness of our lives.
In the here-and-now, we are waiting for Christmas, for the celebration of Christ’s coming amongst humans, for the celebration of Christ becoming human. And, as we know all too well, it is hard to keep a hold of the religious side of the season, as we get drawn into the present buying, the card sending, the rush, the busy-ness. I believe that it is only by consciously taking moments to rest with God that we will be able to keep hold of God’s peace, the inner calm that we need so much. And through that resting with him we will find that Christmas takes on its true significance, its true meaning… and we might even find a meaning in the rush too. Let God take part in your Christmas shopping and it too can become a religious experience ~ REALLY! Being aware of him with you as you search lovingly for the right gift for a friend, as you mix with the crowds in the centre of Clermont Ferrand, as you send a card to someone you’ve not seen for ages, it makes everything a little easier, because he is sharing it with you. Letting go, and letting God into all of your Christmas preparations, will bring the peace and love of which the angels sang on that first Christmas night.
But we wait too for the coming of Christ in the future, the coming of Christ in glory, the second coming… And, if you are like me, maybe it’s something you are happy to keep looking forward to, but would actually rather not have happen quite yet, thank you very much! If I am honest, when I think of the second coming I get a bit worried… maybe I’ve made a mistake and I’m going to end up with the goats!
But again, it is here that, like Zechariah, Elizabeth, Joseph and Mary, like all those we remember during Advent, I have to rely on what I know of God. He is loving, he is merciful, he is just, and he cares for me. Despite my failings, despite the fact that I have to ask forgiveness so many times, I am still a Child of God, and I can surely rely on him to carry me home when he comes again in glory. There is a piece that I read in my daily devotions, from Mark’s gospel that talks of the second coming, and in the New English Bible is translated “Hold your head up high”… and that is what we will be able to do when Christ returns, for he has come to take us home. We will not have to grovel in fear, scared of God’s anger, hiding our faces. We will be able to hold our heads high, secure in the knowledge that we are members of God’s family, loved and wanted by him.
So, in my waiting time, when I am worried about my worthiness to stand before my God, I should remember to let go of my wonderings, and to trust in the God that I know loves me enough to become a helpless babe, to live as a peasant, and to die, hung on a cross. THAT is the God that I am waiting for, and so I can wait with confidence. The waiting might be hard, I might be full of questions about Why? But I can hold peace in my heart, for I know that the gift, which God has for me, is a gift of wonder, of joy and of love.
You may have gathered that I am a fan of Rend Collective. The reason I love this group so much is that all their songs seem to capture something of my walk with God. I want to play a song of theirs for you which reminds us that the Messiah for whom we wait with such expectation is the one who brings love, not fear. So even when Malachi warns us that he will be as refiner’s fire, we need not be afraid, for God has saved us and he has more wonderful things in store for us than we can ever dare to imagine. As the song says:
More than all our sin
Than all our shame
Stronger than the grave
You are immeasurably more
I can’t help but sing
Can’t help but praise
My heart cannot contain
You are immeasurably more
No eye has seen, no ear has heard
What is coming, what is coming
Never-ending joy, never-failing love
You are coming…
We look for God’s coming in glory. Amen. Thanks be to God.