When, I wonder, did we forget how to wait for something. None of us like waiting, for anything. We want what we want, and we want it now! And, if we are one of the 1% of the world who have enough money to buy pretty much anything we want, we tend to get it…now.
A couple of years ago, Clare came back from visiting a friend’s house, extolling the virtues of the new Amazon 'Echo' device. 'It's fantastic', she said. You can just ask it to play the radio, or for a summary of the news headlines, or what the weather will be! I really fancy one for Christmas.' Three days later, one arrived in our house!
The Season of Advent is the beginning of the Church’s New Year, and it is designed specifically to be a time of waiting. For the rest of our society, the New Year starts with a bang and fireworks…with a sense that we’ve ‘arrived’ at something important. That’s odd, when you think about it. Why should the simple turn of the Calendar be something to be celebrated with dancing in the street and all night parties? But the Church, deliberately, counter-culturally, starts its new year with two important words…’Coming’ (which is what ‘Advent’ means)…and ‘Wait’.
This year, with the challenges of COVID, none of us can wait for the whole messy business to be over. We don’t want to wait. Even the Government has felt pressured to relax sensible rules of social distancing over Christmas, because, they felt, society in general is simply incapable of waiting. ‘Don’t ruin our Christmas!’ they have cried – even though many of them will go nowhere near a church, nor even ponder for a moment the meaning of the coming of Christ. What would it matter if we delayed Christmas by a few months, until we’ve all been vaccinated? But no, we don’t want to wait. We must have what we want, and we want it NOW!
In Advent, we can’t help looking forward, because we see the way the world is now. We yearn for God to put things right. The writers of the Gospel’s shared in that sense of urgency. Mark and Luke, for example, repeat a saying attributed to Jesus, which is (for me) one of the most intriguing lines of the New Testament: “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place”. Jesus is reported to have promised that his second coming was SO imminent, that the current generation would not pass away before that great event happened.
Well, that didn’t happen! This is one of those examples of where we need to understand the context of the writers of Scripture. Mark was writing at a time when Jesus had been gone for perhaps 30 years, and the early church was feeling the iron boot of Rome on its neck. Peter was probably in prison, along with Paul. Rome was becoming increasingly hostile towards both Jews and the new cult of the Christians.
It should not surprise us that Mark, in reporting Jesus’ words from three decades before, has rather let his imagination run away with him. He didn’t want to wait for God’s plan to be unfolded in God’s time. Despite reporting that Jesus said ‘no-one will know the hour or the time of his coming’, Mark let his inner-optimist get the better of him…I suggest.
Or perhaps - Jesus is, in fact, already come, stealthily, in clouds. That by his Holy Spirit, he is already among us. That he is even now, continually, gathering his elect – his followers – from the ends of the earth. Gathering us into churches, love-factories, for the spreading of his message of Love.
And, while we wait for the completion of the Reign of God, there is a very real sense in which God is already among us, already coming – in fact already here.
Every time an army lays down its weapons, and seeks peace - Jesus comes.
Every time politicians and scientists combine their efforts in unprecedented action to produce a vaccine – Jesus comes.
Every time a family is raised up of fear by the organisation Stop Domestic Abuse, Jesus comes.
Every time a lonely person finds a friend in our morning church-opening, or forthcoming Christmas Market, Jesus comes.
Every time one of our church members phones another church member just to chat – to make a connection - Jesus comes.
Every time a hungry family is fed by the Beacon or PO9 Foodbanks, Jesus comes.
Every time homeless people sleeping in our town are treated like the human beings they truly are, Jesus comes.
Every time that an alcoholic, a gambler, a drug user turns up to one of our Pallant Centre support groups, and says ‘NO!’ to their addiction, Jesus comes.
Every time an item of clothing is recycled through our shop, rather than added to the pile of human refuse, the planet is loved, and Jesus comes.
Every time a young person develops their human potential through Dynamo Youth Theatre, or a person with learning difficulties grows in confidence through Creating Chaos, or a teenager with mental health challenges is helped by MIND - Jesus comes.
Every time that SSAFA helps the poverty-stricken family of an armed services veteran, Jesus comes.
You see - signs of the kingdom are all around us.
Our task, like an alert house-owner, is to keep awake. To see the signs of the kingdom with open eyes, and join in with the activity of God, wherever it is found. Amen.