When, I wonder, did we forget how to wait for things? 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 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’.
Waiting is a central part of the Biblical witness. The Israelites who fled from Egypt waited 40 years to reach their destination. King David bought the land on which the Jerusalem temple would be built, but it was his son Solomon who built it. The Jewish Exiles waited for 70 years to return from Babylon to Jerusalem. And the followers of Jesus still wait for his complete return. We wait. We long for the fully realised Kingdom of God on earth, as it is in heaven.
It is in those periods of waiting that God does his work. For the Israelites fleeing Egypt, it was the time when God taught them to trust in him and to obey his laws. For the Exiles, it was the time of Daniel, and the powerful demonstrations of God’s power in the lion’s den, and in the fiery furnace of Shadrach, Mesach and Abegnego. For followers of Jesus, these last two centuries have been a time of gradually building up of the household of God, the year by year spreading of God’s good news of Love from nation to nation. Christianity is the largest religion (by followers on the planet) and this has taken time to achieve. On a personal level, God works within us, during Advent, to dispel the myth that instant gratification will do anything at all to make us truly happy.
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 perhaps let poetry trump accuracy, as ancient writers often did. 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 out of fear or poverty Jesus comes.
• Every time a lonely person finds a friend in a church social gathering, 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.