As the calendar flips over and we come to Advent, life can often seem this way. It can seem as though we simply have no room in our over crowded world for the ideas so central to Advent - silence, stillness, waiting. It can seem as though the time to attend to the things of God, is eroded by demands of hospitality, celebration and preparation. It can seem as though there is no way to change this, or to change the relentless patterns of our lives and world.
Yet this is to misunderstand the nature of waiting. I don’t know about you, but waiting is not something that comes easily. It can seem easier to rush onwards, seeking the next activity or the next opportunity. The slow natural processes of change and transformation can be a challenge to those of us raised to the high tempo of modern life. Our consumer culture reflects this, taking as its subtext ‘why wait’? Why indeed?...
When a mother to be is pregnant, they cannot rush the forming of their child. Indeed they know that a child born too soon, prematurely, risks death. All they can do is to wait patiently for bone and muscle, ligament and nerve to form silently, in the womb. As they wait they attend to each moment of growth; the gentle swelling, the first movements, the turning and positioning that will lead to birth. They wait in hope. If they have been pregnant before, the wait for something that has happened before to happen again. They experience in each present moment the next unfolding of a future already both known and unknown.
This helps us. For in a real sense in Advent we wait for what has already happened. We wait for a coming that has been and is yet to be. We wait in hope and expectation that the Christ to be born will bring justice and peace to a world torn apart. For we wait not just for the future but for the transformation of the present.
As Paula Gooder has written, ‘this biblical vision of waiting for the future is one that calls forth both an acceptance of the reality of our current situation and a determination to change it. We live ‘between’ and so must accept the nature of the world as it is now, but we can also grasp hold of God’s possibility for the world. The glimmers of God’s glory that we see, exist to strengthen our resolve to increase those glimmers, to strive to make God’s kingdom more present on earth every day. Waiting for the future involves a recognition of what the world might be and the resolve to bring our own part of it one step closer. ….. waiting becomes active, waiting for the future involves transforming the present.’
There are many voices of despair, who refuse to believe that things can change; that the poor and the weak can find redress. ‘No way’, they say. Sometimes this can be our voice too. Yet the message of Advent is that there is a way; that it is always possible to conceive of the world differently; that in glimmers and chinks of light, in stables and in parliaments a different voice can be heard - the voice of Mary’s song, that turns the world upside down and says ‘there is a way’.
This is the voice for which we long in this Advent season. It is sometimes no more than a whisper, easily drowned by the canned carols and the ring of cash tills. It is the voice for which we need to make room. One way to make room is to attend to each moment in this Advent season. To pause from time to time, if only for a breath, and listen for that whisper, ‘I am coming’. For if in the four weeks of Advent we can learn to attend to that voice from moment to moment, then on Christmas Day we may find more room in our hearts to welcome the one for whom we have waited, and instead of an anticlimax Christmas can become once more a space of rejoicing.
So tonight, let us take the time to wait. Simply to wait, without expectation but in trust. We know that we cannot fully understand the ways of God, but we know that we can trust God to be there, no matter what happens. So let us wait in trust, and let God be God, and discover as the poet RS Thomas wrote long ago, that ‘the meaning is in the waiting’. Amen
Penny Jones - for Sanctus, Saturday 25 November 2017