We all know that the best things in life are not instant! It takes time for good things to mature, from a wonderful soup to the skill of a concert pianist. In an age of rush and hurry, of instant gratification and instant noodles, the invitation to wait that Advent brings is an invitation to slow down, to savour, to prepare, to enjoy the anticipation to the full. The prophets of the Old Testament, whom we remember particularly on this first Sunday of Advent, knew this. They had waited for centuries for the coming of the Messiah, and their messages remind us that the best is yet to be, from the one ‘who works for those who wait for him’ as we heard in Isaiah. So, firstly, wait.
Then Wake. I sometimes think that the very best image for Advent is an alarm clock, sounding at full volume. As Jesus is reported to have said in today’s gospel ‘keep awake’. What did he mean? There are obvious interpretations that talk about the delay of Jesus’s return and the need to be on our guard in case he comes back unexpectedly. However I think it is important to remember that Jesus was a prophet, in the fine tradition of prophecy. Hence his words of warning are just as applicable to today’s issues as to those of his own time. Like the prophets, like John the Baptist, Jesus urges us to keep awake, to notice the signs of our times and to respond.
So what are some of the things to which we need to attend? ‘From the fig tree learn its lesson’ says Jesus. We too need to notice urgently the messages coming from the natural world- the bleaching of coral, the increase in catastrophic weather events, the erosion of soils and the extinction of species. Wake up Jesus is saying, what is happening in the created order and what are you doing about it? Secondly we need to attend to the needs of those least able to speak for themselves, for these are the ones that most clearly need gospel acts of liberation and generosity. This is why today I will invite anyone who wishes to join me after the service in a simple gesture of solidarity with the men from Manus Island. Finally within our own church community and expression of faith, Jesus calls us to wake up, to ask ourselves where our faith has become merely habitual and routine and seek new ways to show our love for God and allow God to speak to us. Advent is an excellent time to begin some new practices of prayer and Christian living. As a small beginning I have brought some Advent colouring calendars for us all. The idea is to spend just a few extra moments in prayer each day, colouring and doodling around one of the shapes on the calendar, and by the end of Advent you will have a beautiful and colourful reminder of your prayer and those whom you love whom you have lifted to God in this way through these days. More instructions about that over morning tea perhaps! But use it as a simple way to wake up your prayer life.
So wait, wake, what came next?
That’s right, want.
Now of course a question that is repeatedly put in these days is ,’what do you want for Christmas,’. It can be a question that becomes harder to answer as our wants and needs simplify with age and we seek to let go of some material things. It can be helpful to go back behind the word, and hear in it the sense of genuine lack. What is it that I truly want, that I know I lack, that my soul longs for? Ultimately we all want and thirst for God. As Augustine said,
“Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you. And see, you were within and I was in the external world and sought you there, and in my unlovely state I plunged into those lovely created things which you made. You were with me, and I was not with you. The lovely things kept me far from you, though if they did not have their existence in you, they had no existence at all. You called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness. You were radiant and resplendent, you put to flight my blindness. You were fragrant, and I drew in my breath and now pant after you. I tasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours.”
Advent can be a wonderful time to acknowledge our wanting for God and turn again to the one who alone can satisfy. It can also be a wonderful time to try and address the huge want there is in the world, for things as basic as clean water and adequate food and shelter. A gift to ABM or other agency can help us fill our need to give in ways that truly benefit others.
Wait, wake, want and work. ‘Work’ you ask, ‘surely this time of year is about holidays and a rest from work?’ That is true of course. Yet Advent is about work. It is about the labour needed to bring good news to a waiting world. Most specifically it is about Mary, whose labour in child birth brings Jesus to the world. We will hear more of her as the weeks pass. But it is also about our work, the work of collaborating with Christ to bring in the kingdom of peace and justice. This is work. It does not just happen by chance and grace. We too have a part to play. In the choices we make, to be grateful; to offer random acts of kindness each day as a recent Facebook trend has suggested; to stand up for those least able to stand up for themselves; to recycle that coffee cup or turn off that light - each little choice adds up to something much greater. Advent is a great time to be especially mindful of the choices we are making and the ways in which they work for the common good or not.
So this advent, be mindful of the four w words - what are they? Wait, wake, want and work. And if we do that, we will come to Christmas Day much more ready for my final w word for today - much more ready for the wonder that lies at the heart of our faith. In the name of Christ for whom we wait. Amen
by Penny Jones, for Advent 1, Sunday 3 December 2017