Readings: Mark 13:24-37, John 1: 35-42
Let us pray: May your word for us, O God, speak into our hearts and minds, challenge us, encourage us and assure us in our faith and our living, in Jesus name. Amen
I wonder, if we were to strip away our pre knowledge of the advent story goes, would that change the way we approach this season of waiting. After all what is expectant waiting if you know exactly what you are waiting for. What is hope-filled anticipation if you can say act by act what happened? What is spectacularly transforming about this moment if you can rely on it coming round each year like clockwork.
I ask this question of myself pretty much every year trying to find a new way into the Christmas story, trying to imagine what it must have been like for Mary, trying to strip away not just my familiarity with the story but also the layers of accumulated cultural and historical response and get back to the beginning. I’ve previously talked of the Christmas card Mary – mainly a legacy of the Victorian era, or the white faced European Mary of religious art or the perfect Mary of the traditions that have deified her. And yet we do her a disservice - is not her powerful message of trust and obedience to be found in her very humanity, her ordinariness, her faltering innocence and extremely vulnerable social position – the stuff we seem intent on doing away with?
So in many ways our contemporary knowledgeable anticipation of the coming of God’s promised one at Christmas is very different from the experience of those who, back then, awaited the Messiah not knowing the time or the place or the manner of this fearfully anticipated birth. A very different waiting from ours.
Maybe this is why we have such a challenging Gospel reading at the beginning of Advent – a reading that seems both out of context and out of time: the second coming before the first, the end time when we are supposed to be thinking about the hope of new beginning.
Maybe the lectionary writers wanted to remind us of what it means to wait, knowing neither the time nor the place nor the manner of Christ’s coming, just as did Mary and Joseph all those years ago.
Here is something that might be helpful. One commentator talks about the difference between passive waiting and active waiting and uses the analogy of someone waiting for the bus (passive – unless its late of course)– as opposed to hearing the sound of the parade and waiting for it to come round the corner – on tip toes, eagerly anticipating, full of expectation.
So does this mean that we are to spend our lives bouncing up and down in excitement, keeping our eyes peeled and our lives on hold? Absolutely not. Alternatively, are we to spend our time and energy trying to figure out when this second coming will be so we can be first at the welcoming gate? Again absolutely not.
‘Beware, keep alert, for you do not know when the time will come.’ This is not a call for us to figure out God’s timetable nor is it a time for us to wait alert, eyes peeled doing nothing else. It is a call to active expectant waiting, anticipating yet engaged with the now.
The two stories together, the nativity and the second coming, very clearly remind us of the most important of paradoxes in the Gospel – that of living with the truth of Christ among us already and also in anticipation of a full and complete relationship with God in a time yet to come. The ‘already but not yet’ as we call it.
So our waiting is an active waiting, an alert and awake time of living our lives in the way of the one who has already come and in the hope of the one still to come. In that way we bind the waiting of Advent to that which is yet to come – because by living actively in the now as Jesus taught us, we continually encounter, glimpse, participate in what is yet to come. In every act of compassion, of service, of justice and grace we are preparing the way for what is to come – is in fact a stepping into what will be. If you plan to wait passively, alert only to the end, then you not only miss the journey – you also fall asleep. If you join in the journey then the many wonderful God moments along the way will not only enliven your waiting but will kindle a light for others too.
For that is what the apostle Andrew did, did he not. It is astonishing to look at the miles he travelled in his waiting, taking the gospel message to places like modern day Poland, Russia and the Ukraine (all of which he is patron saint to) and Greece and Constantinople and Rome. He is known to have set out at least four missionary trips through these countries and it was in Patras in Greece that he was crucified!
He wasn’t sitting back waiting – he was living out the call that was placed on his life – getting on with it. So I can see an immediate exodus from Opoho as you all head of into the hinterlands – ok maybe not.
That was St Andrew’s story of waiting. What is ours? How do we live into the God with us and yet remain alert to the God yet to come? What does our waiting, if that’s what it is, look like?
I thank you all for your very positive response to the future of full time ministry here in Opoho – and for your trust in our journey together continuing. Because by doing so you have made a conscious decision to not just sit tight and see out our time but instead to actively seek out ways of being Christ in this community.
As we raise the level of awareness of our need to be financially sustainable – do you know what I see – increasing stories of acts of generosity inside and outside the church, gifts of money, time, energy to the needy, for the vulnerable in our city. Did you all see that both the cities’ food banks and the Night Shelter will be scraping the bottom of the barrel this next couple of months? Can we respond ? Can we be generous in our giving of food and can we get some money to the Night Shelter – I suspect we can.
As we continue to engage in hospitality for students, for neighbours, for those on the edges – we become more aware of the need to support each other too – how important is it to be made welcome, to share food around the table, to rest and have a safe place to ask questions. That is a integral part of our mission in Opoho and we constantly think about how we can encourage and engage as a welcoming community of faith.
And there is the everyday – remember that tree that we so beautifully decorated a couple of weeks ago – all the things that we do for each other and for the continuing of this, Christ’s presence, here in this place. And do you know what was an unexpectedly important one for me – those who hold the memory of what has been – for it enabled me to imagine and see more clearly and have an expectant hope in that which was to come? Does that make sense?
So none of this sounds to me like we are a people who are sleeping while they wait for the second coming. This sounds to me like a people alert and engaged in the journey that Christ has invited us on, bringing the kingdom of God that is to come very intentionally into the here and now – and for this we say thanks to God - in Jesus name. Amen.