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Sermon for Advent Sunday 2020

29th Nov 2020


HOLY CROSS CHURCH, CROMER STREET 2020

ADVENT SUNDAY SERMON

 

Stay awake, because you never know when the time will come.  Mark 13.33

 

 

The season of Advent, unlike any other season in the Church’s year, leads us to an understanding of the Christian Faith which involves a waiting mode of being. 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, and a prolonged wait, peppered for the child with all kinds of excitement and promise.

 

But for adults waiting can be a much less ecstatic business. 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 even await their own death. 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; most clearly seen in the Garden of Gethsemane as one who waits and holds with all the fearfulness and the terror of his own position in the waiting. He is waiting in the midst of his own vulnerability and exposure and helplessness for what is to come. When I think of Jesus, I think of him waiting, of him trusting, of him waiting, open and vulnerable and exposed. And this is the Jesus we see as we turn in this new church year to Gospel readings from Mark : to the Christ who reveals the secret of his messiahship only gradually, who speaks in parables which are more often than not misunderstood, who instructs his followers to remain silent about what they have seen in him and who struggles with his God-given destiny. Something in Mark’s Gospel is being unfolded and it cannot be understood, then as now, in an instant. It involves a relationship of belief and of trust. The waiting is to be a waiting in hope.  The tension in Mark lies between the waiting and the outcome of the waiting.                                                 

 

We of course wait in time. “And time will have its fancy” says the poet Auden , “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 ‘stay awake’ – awake to all that is around you and to that which gives meaning to your life and to the lives of those around you. This is done most truly in relation to Christ. We become awakened in Christ to the possibility and the potential of what lies all around us. This is because this is an awakening to ourselves as we really are. We are being called this Advent to listen, to wait, to hope, to give of ourselves as he did.  The writer of Ecclesiastes (3.1) reminds us that ”there is a time for everything under the sun” and the Season of Advent exposes us to that. Though the passing of time brings new challenges, some of them emotionally trying, even so we are asked not to be afraid. Mark’s Advent Christ is the one who makes possible the waiting as things unfold and come about without the need to control them or to explain them unduly.

 

Kneeling

BY R. S. THOMAS

 

Moments of great calm,

Kneeling before an altar

Of wood in a stone church

In summer, waiting for the God  

To speak; the air a staircase  

For silence; the sun’s light  

Ringing me, as though I acted  

A great rôle. And the audiences  

Still; all that close throng

Of spirits waiting, as I,

For the message.

 

 

                   Prompt me, God;

But not yet. When I speak,  

Though it be you who speak  

Through me, something is lost.  

The meaning is in the waiting.

 

 

As the Advent Season progresses we make a journey from darkness and into the light into which Jesus is born in Bethlehem. We are led to it by the wisdom of the prophets, the message of an angel and the guiding of a star. But that is for later… For now the Holy Season of Advent points to the hard fact of patient waiting; the waiting in faith while something greater is being unfolded. 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 attentive waiting. Instead we are bewildered with the luxury of too much choice and gratification. How rightly named is last week’s ‘Black Friday’. But there are times when we must refuse this. Advent speaks to us of a gradual unfolding as this morning we will light the first candle on the Advent wreath. This is a sign of the time it will take to get to the coming of the birth of Jesus. But first we wait. So let us wait, then; wait and pray; wait, and then see…

 

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.