Advent – waiting and yearning for things to be different

Mary Copping and Liz Stuart, 29 November 2020

Isaiah 64: 1–9; 1 Corinthians 1: 3–9; Mark 13: 24–37

So Mary, here we are in Advent. What does Advent mean to you?

Well, waiting and preparing. When I do assemblies the children are always guaranteed to know what Advent is, because they’re opening their calendars. So one chocolate is one day nearer to Santa bringing the presents!

Of course, with Covid, we’ve been having too much waiting, waiting for operations, waiting for tests, waiting to hear the next news. But Advent to Christians is a different kind – it’s preparing to receive Christ again, preparing for Christ to be born again in us and waiting for Christ’s new Kingdom to come, however we may understand that.

Someone gave me a good example of waiting. If you’re standing at a bus stop, if you know the time of the bus, you think, right, it’s not here yet, you can relax. Oh yes, it’s nearly time. I can relax. But if you don’t know the time of the bus, you’re going, is it here yet? No? Is that it? No. It’s two different types of waiting. Firstly, the peaceful kind, the waiting, the sense of stillness with God and of prayer, meditation, reading the Bible, just being quiet with God. But also an alertness for God – what God wants us to do, what God’s going to do in our lives, and what God is going to do in other people’s lives. And receiving his love afresh.

So, what does it mean to you, Liz?

Well, also a time of waiting. I think it’s so interesting that we go into this period when we’re waiting for something that’s already happened, Jesus being born. And I wonder if God is giving us every year another chance really to enter into the mystery of the Incarnation. To understand it a bit better, and a bit better. So in a sense I think it’s about us waiting – waiting for Christ to come, waiting for us to understand it a bit more, but also God waiting for us to catch up and really understand the meaning of him coming into the world as a human being, as a tiny baby, experiencing everything that you and I experience.

For me, this year, also there’s a deeper yearning. It feels like we need to be saved, in a very visceral way, with the pandemic going on. It’s not just those of us who are Christians who are waiting and yearning and longing for things to be different – it’s everybody. And I don’t think I’ve ever said with more passion or desire, ‘O come, O come, Emmanuel’.

So, people say that Christmas comes very early, people are celebrating very early, preparing early. What do you think about that, Liz?

Well, many years ago I had a parish priest who felt so passionately about this, he wouldn’t have any carol services until after Christmas Day. And of course nobody came to them, because by that point they were fed up with Christmas. But he absolutely took the line that Advent is about waiting; you only start celebrating Christmas after Christmas Day.

I don’t go with that. I think there’s a sense in which Christmas comes every time we celebrate the Eucharist. Christ comes among us. And I really believe that when people decorate their house with beautiful lights, and not-so-beautiful lights, when they want to be with one another, when they feel moved at this time of year to care for others in a way that perhaps they don’t at other times of the year, when they’re full of expectation for what’s coming at Christmas, I believe all that is often an unconscious yearning for what Jesus brings – light in the darkness, love of each other, of neighbour, God’s love for everybody and a fulfilment of all our yearnings for things to be better, for us to be kinder to one another.

So I don’t mind people beginning – it doesn’t bother me when I hear carols in shops in September. I think that’s all about people actually yearning for the coming of Christ.

What about you?

Especially this year, you can understand it, can’t you? They’ve had the decorations up early, present-buying. They need something, we all need something – a light in the darkness – and people have got something to look forward to, looking forward to Christmas. And of course we can’t be with all our families, but people are going to be able to be with family.

Before I was a Christian I was one of those putting up the lights about the middle of November. But the same yearning to be with family, whether you’re Christian, not Christian, to be with those you love, and to gather with those you love, and there amongst them is God. Being with family. And this year we’ll be able to be with a few family, and that’s what it’s all about, whatever you believe.

But as Christians also we are to hold on to the waiting and preparing. It’s like, hold on a minute, what about the quiet? To be the stillness of God in the clamour of the world. We’re surrounded – maybe we’re surrounded with family who are putting up the decorations – but we can be the stillness in the clamour.

We can be the light in people’s darkness as we spend time with God and as we move through the world we unconsciously take God’s light in the world. And we can recognise God at work in the world and help others to recognise God’s work in the world. And of course, as you’ve said, to receive the love of Christ and to give that love wherever it is. And the love of Christ is needed so much in this world now, and the light of Christ is needed so much. And it’s good to light those candles in Advent to remind us of the light of Christ in the world. And to bring that peace that passes understanding.

That’s lovely. I love those words from the German theologian Dietrich Bonhöffer, who was executed right at the end of the Second World War for opposing Hitler. And perhaps his words [from A Testament to Freedom: the essential writings of Dietrich Bonhöffer] could conclude our sermon.

‘Advent is a time of waiting. Our whole life, however, is Advent – that is, a time of waiting for the Ultimate, for the time when there will be a new heaven and a new earth, when all people are brothers and sisters and one rejoices in the words of the angels: “On earth, peace to those on whom God’s favour rests”. Learn to wait, because he has promised to come. “I stand at the door …” We however call to him: “Yes, come soon, Lord Jesus!”’ Amen.