Active and focused waiting

Mary Copping, 27 November 2016

Romans 13: 11–14; Matthew 24: 36–44

As Jesus prays with and for his disciples, in John 17, he speaks of them being ‘not of this world’. Yet he doesn’t ask God to take them out of it, but asks God to strengthen them in it. As we have reached this first Sunday of Advent, how do we as Christians behave as being in the world but not of it?

Advent, waiting – there isn’t much evidence of waiting around us, as we come nearer to Christmas. There were Christmas decorations in the shops in early November; everyone is rushing to buy things for Christmas. Black Friday has just gone with massive sales and people desperate to get bargains. Families worrying if they’re going to have enough money – there is a lot of worry and stress, a real contrast to what this time of Advent should be like. And, of course, being in this world we are going to be caught up in all this.

But how much more important for us as Christians, then, to do things differently, to be not of the world and its ways. To be quiet, to know that stillness in our hearts, as we wait for the coming of our saviour.

In this time of waiting for the coming, there are three ways of looking at Advent. The first is the most obvious one for us and those around us: waiting for Jesus’ birth, the excitement of knowing that our saviour was born into this world and we will be celebrating that in just a few weeks. And we know the time (roughly) and the place. How do we wait for that? We must make preparations, as everyone else, but let them be considered and prayerful preparations – time with God in the morning, to hear his voice and his guidance throughout the day. And then to consider. Do I need that thing? How can I help someone else during this time? How can I slow things down so that there is not so much pressure on others?

The second, of which there is much in the Bible, is waiting for Christ’s return. Many see this as Christ coming back in judgement, to make all things new. Would we be ready if he came today? Are we doing what he wants us to do? Have we forgiven that person? Have we made things right with others? Jesus spoke much about the end times, saying that nobody knew the time, not even himself, only his father. Paul, in one of his letters, refers to people who had given up work, expecting the Son of Man to come in their lifetime. So, not bothering to try and make a living, as all would be wound up shortly – not knowing the time.

Would we be ready if Christ came today? Are we doing what he wants us to do? Have we forgiven that person?

So how do we wait, how do we prepare, being in this world but not of it? In our gospel reading Jesus warns people to be ready for the coming of the Son of Man in glory – they will not have time to finish off what they meant to do or go back and do just that last thing. The reading ends with, ‘Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour’.

As we think of preparing for that, think of waiting for a bus. If you know when it’s coming you can relax until near that time. If you don’t, then you are alert looking at the number on each bus, not wanting to miss your one. For us, it’s about being alert to God’s Holy Spirit and what he wants us to do. Being alert to the needs of those around us and doing what we can to help.

The third way of looking at Advent is preparing for Christ coming to us each day. As we live our lives, Christ comes to us in many ways. Are we prepared each day for his coming? Are we noticing him when he does come into our lives each day, as he makes a difference to us and to others? Are we expecting him to come to us? Being in this world, but being aware of Christ’s coming to us and to others as we live each day. Prayerful and aware, thanking him for his coming and asking him to use us in it. Looking with new eyes at each day and the events in it.

The meaning of the word Advent is the arrival of a person or thing – for us, the arrival of Jesus the Messiah. I listened to a talk on Advent that Archbishop Sentamu gave for Pause for Thought on Radio 2; he described Advent as active and focused waiting and said that we are awaiting the arrival of someone very important. Part of that is about reflecting on our lives, saying sorry for the things we’ve done wrong and doing the things that we should have done but keep putting off. But also being focused on the one who is to come, in prayer and quiet – being ready.

As we wait for the Lord’s coming in whichever way relates best to us, as we try to spend more time in prayer and in awareness of Christ in the world, what are the things we can think about, pray about, do? All of us will know people around us or know of them, who don’t have the choice about waiting but who are having enforced waiting: refugees in camps around the world waiting to be settled somewhere; refugees being settled in Winchester and elsewhere; people waiting for appointments, operations; or people knowing that death is imminent, for them or for a loved one, sitting by a bedside. Are we able to help any of those waiting, who need our help? Active and focused waiting, prayerful and obedient waiting.

How did Joseph and Mary cope in their Advent time as they travelled to Bethlehem on the donkey, Joseph concerned for his heavily pregnant wife, waiting for the new life to come? How did they feel when they had to go from inn to inn, being told that there was no room because everyone had had to travel back for the census? Their waiting towards the end of Mary’s pregnancy was not peaceful and quiet waiting; theirs was enforced stress and pressure. Their stillness came when Jesus was born in that quiet stable at Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago. How much more for us, then, that we should wait in quiet and peace, stillness and joy, taking that peace into the world – God’s peace, which the world cannot give. Taking a few moments to be still and quiet, perhaps reading a verse from the Advent booklet, reciting a short mantra such as ‘Maranatha’ [‘Come, O Lord’]. Then going out, knowing that the peace we have received from God will ripple out to all those around us. That is the gift of God we can give to the world. Being in the world but not of it, peaceful and still.

I end with words from the 19th-century hymn ‘Dear Lord and Father of mankind’: ‘Drop thy still dews of quietness, till all our strivings cease; take from our souls the strain and stress, and let our ordered lives confess the beauty of thy peace’.