Advent Sunday – The Stature of Waiting
Advent from the Latin means ‘coming’, and today at what is the very start of the Christian liturgical year we begin that period of waiting for the coming of the Christ-child, the Messiah, the incarnation of God.
As you can tell by the purple of our stoles, and the absence of the Gloria among other things, Advent is a penitential season like Lent. It is meant in every way to be a sober thoughtful season of preparation for a great festival. In times past the Church prepared for all its feasts by fasts, accompanied by times of prayer and self-questioning and repentance. In an age without artificial light, when keeping warm meant staying indoors, and when there was little distraction from the wearing routine of keeping life going, perhaps these tasks were easier? Covid and the restrictions it brought perhaps brought us the quietest least busy and frantic Christmases that many of us have experienced, where the build-up didn’t take over our lives as we knew we couldn’t gather as we had once done. For some I am sure a blessed rest, a change, for others an isolating and lonely experience. This year we are somewhat in an in-between place, more of the bustle and opportunity for gatherings and visits, but still apprehension that this can so easily have to stop.
In the past these few weeks of Advent could become anything but a period of thoughtful reflection, they were often a highly charged and emotional whirl of social and practical obligations and responsibilities. We are so able to shield ourselves from the changing world around us that we can become disconnected, not only in terms of the seasons and the length of daylight, but in the more insidious sense of accepting without demure that Christmas adverts begining in September.
This advent as in others we will be guided helpfully by the lighting of the advent wreath. Each week another candle is lit reminding us of those figures who have pointed to the coming of the Messiah the Christ. Our liturgy will reflect on them, and we will attempt to re-acquaint ourselves with the stories that lead to Christmas day.
There are many advent themes, and I want to suggest to you this morning that among the most helpful is that of waiting. When I was a student there was a wonderful book by Bill Vanstone entitled ‘ The Stature of Waiting’. We set great store by activity and busy-ness, Vanstone notes. We want to be 'in control'. We value what we 'do' more than who we are. So when we become ill, or retire from work, or suffer an enforced period of inactivity, our self-esteem is threatened. We evade, repudiate, or resent experiences of passivity, of waiting, we are told to advance or perish and we believe it.
Bill Vanstone shows the unquestioned and impressive majesty of Jesus as he 'waits' before those who accuse him, waits before those who taunt him and, finally, waits before even those who crucify him. It is in his passivity and 'passion', when we have things done to us instead of doing things, the times when we simply wait, that are as important as the times of action and taking charge.
The Gospel today, as many others will in advent, caution us to a sensitive and holy waiting, preparedness comes not from rushing forward doing things, but by dwelling, by waiting, by learning to live in the moment and to be alive to the experiences we so often rush past.
Advent calls us to wait, to be patient, to be everything in a way that the modern world is not. We won’t find it easy to love doing nothing at a time when the feeling is that every moment must be filled, and every task completed to perfection, every need anticipated, and every desire catered for. How many here will ruin their next few weeks by setting their bar so high, either their own expectations of themselves or of others, that despite experience, they are once again sailing towards inevitable disappointment? We all do it, we must just change that carpet, re-decorate that room, buy that settee, and so on, all in the next two weeks. The shopping and present buying, the housework and the stress of it all! And why, do we not believe folk will love us for who we are, rather than what we give them, or that despite our demonstrations of love and kindness they will go home saying Christmas was ruined because the curtains were shabby, or we forgot the Dijon? So many of us are Christmas addicts, and it is a bad addiction, because as Vanstone is trying to say, it shows we value ourselves in all the wrong ways, and in so doing misunderstand what is important about the relationships we have with others, and of course with God.
So we must learn to calm down, sit down, and wait in holy quiet. Not to rush the days past with calendars, or be driven like a child by wanting it to be today. Christmas is not about such things. It requires of us gratitude, and a response in love, and in kind. He whose home was heaven, for our sake humbled himself and became man. In service of humanity, out of love for the creation, and with the desire to save and redeem our souls, God sent his only begotten son.
A gift so immense, and not a surprise, but one you know is coming, is worth time spent sitting quietly, and simply waiting.