Sermon for Advent Sunday 2016

27th Nov 2016



“Therefore you must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour”

Matthew 24.36


The season of Advent involves us in a waiting mode of being as we prepare for the Coming of Christ at Christmas.  I overheard a child in Waitrose the other day saying to her brother “I can’t wait for Christmas!”  In her eyes I could glimpse how children are caught up in the excitement of waiting. It’s a wonderful, suspenseful kind of waiting, peppered for the child with all kinds of excitement and promise.


But for adults waiting can be a much less ecstatic business, especially when it places us in situations over which we have little or no control. When I think about waiting my mind turns to the hospital as a place of waiting. Patients start the day waiting for early breakfasts, for the bed to be made and for the doctor to come on his rounds. They wait for the result of tests and appointments and surgery or to be sent home; some are even awaiting their own death. This is waiting of a kind which is never easy. One of the great theological books written on the theme of waiting is Bill Vanstone’s The Stature of Waiting. In it Jesus is seen above all else as one who waits. He is waiting in the midst of his own vulnerability and exposure and helplessness for what is to come. When we think of Jesus, we think of him waiting, of him trusting, of his being open, vulnerable, and exposed to the elements.


None of us wait in a vacuum and nor did Jesus. Christians wait in God’s time even though the poet Auden reminds us that  “…time will have its fancy, tomorrow or today”. But it is as time goes by that we experience some of the greatest challenges to our sense of who we are, and of the need, as the Gospel reading for this morning puts it, to be in a strong state of readiness – awakened to what lies all around us and with re-awakened sense of trust in the loving mercy of a God who is most present. The writer of Ecclesiastes (3.1) reminds us both reassuringly and forebodingly that ”there is a time for everything under the sun”. Though the passing of time brings new challenges, some of them emotionally trying, even so we are asked not to be afraid. To pray to God for strength to survive is an act of survival in itself. Though time may seem to be so attached to mere fate, Auden can nonetheless remind us that God's loving and merciful presence reaches beyond it:


Because of his visitation, we may no longer desire God as if he were lacking: our redemption is no longer a question of pursuit but of surrender to him who is always and everywhere present. Therefore at every moment we pray that, following him, we may depart from anxiety into his presence.    W H Auden. 


The promise of the coming of Christ demands our faith and trust. As the Advent Season progresses we are making a journey from darkness to light. We are being led to it by the wisdom of the prophets, the voice of John the Baptist, the message of the angel Gabriel and the guiding of a star. But that is for later…


For now, Advent is pointing us to the hard fact of patient waiting; the waiting in faith while something greater is being unfolded. Mature waiting. Waiting in God’s time. In an age in which a vast amount of choice is available to us. In an age in which temporary gratification is satisfied in so many ways and in an age in which communication is instantaneous and abbreviated we are too often urged to live our lives without the inconvenience of costly waiting. The Advent summons is not one of 'click and collect', for Advent speaks to us of a gradual unfolding - we have lit only the first candle candle this morning on the Advent wreath. This is a sign of the time it will take to get to the coming of the birth of Jesus. And we will get there. But first we are to wait. So let us now accept the challenge this Advent offer us, to wait and pray; to wait, and then, hopefully, to see…