The Eternal Light is at the beginning to lead us through the darkness

Mary Copping, 6 December 2020

Isaiah 40: 1–11; 2 Peter 3: 8–15a; Mark 1: 1–8

I heard of a tee shirt with the wording on it, ‘Jesus is coming, look busy’. Not quite the theme of Advent we’re looking for.

This season of Advent is a season of expectation and preparation for the coming of Christ. In a way, the mood during this time is different to Lent, though the colour’s the same and it’s a sombre time – in Lent the stress is on penitence, and for this time of Advent the focus is on preparation and being ready.

Of course in this current climate, there seems to be no quiet preparation. Christmas is upon us already nearly according to all that we see around us, but in these very strange times people are desperate to have something to look forward to, to celebrate. The colours in the shops differ to those in our church – reds, greens, tinsel and glitter – and here we have purple, the colour of sombre reflection. But this makes it even more important for the Church, for us, to hold on to the Advent season, to hold on to the stillness and waiting of this time.

John the Baptist came to proclaim God’s kingdom, to announce the coming of the Messiah, to tell people to be ready. He announced it not in the Temple but in the desert – the place where Moses had encountered God, the place where Jesus was tempted before his ministry. The Jewish people had built a temple for God, but John called them back to the desert, which they had crossed to get to the Promised Land.

John was a very serious man, took his role seriously – calling people to repent, and many were coming and repenting. Jesus’ approach – different. When he came, he came with love and acceptance, though firm with those doing wrong and still with a message of us all needing forgiveness, which he came to bring.

In this time of Covid-19, this Advent is a very different Advent to any we’ve been through before. There’s been a huge amount of seriousness and waiting for us all already over the past few months. Perhaps losing loved ones, waiting for the results of Covid tests, feeling lonely, fears for the future.

But Advent does give us a time to reflect on our lives and look forward to the coming of Christ, both as infant Messiah and as the returning Lord and King. To let Christ be at the centre of our lives, to focus on the God who became incarnate, to allow God deeper into our hearts. And for us, to go deeper into his love.

So, the tee shirt, ‘Jesus is coming, look busy’: of course, many of us are always looking busy, too busy often. But the message behind this is, if we thought that Jesus was coming again in our lifetime – maranatha, ‘Come Lord Jesus’ – would we be doing what he wanted us to be doing, would we be ready to receive him?

In this talk of being ready, of preparation, I do believe that, after the seriousness and waiting we’ve already been through and continue to go through, I think that God wants us to know his inner joy, the peace that only he can give and a lightness of heart. We need the light of Christ in our hearts and in our lives, the light to shine in the darkness of all that is happening. And in a practical way, some light at the end of the tunnel: the announcement of the new vaccine and the hope it brings to us all. Some light is that we can meet some family members at Christmas, and the joy that will bring. But most important for us as Christians is that we have our most holy faith that God has given us, this light of Christ, to get us through. With God, we can go on.

In London one day I was walking past a street evangelist who was proclaiming that everyone who did not give their lives to Jesus would go to Hell – he looked very serious and very threatening. I spoke to him and said, ‘You look so serious, it seems that believing in the Lord Jesus is very depressing’. He ignored me and continued his tirade. I believe, in this Advent God wants, yes, a drawing closer to him in prayer, stillness and Bible reading, but also a lightness of spirit, a thankfulness of heart, an appreciation of the beauty around us. And if we do have a chance to laugh, how refreshing and releasing.

In this Advent God wants, yes, a drawing closer to him in prayer, stillness and Bible reading, but also a lightness of spirit. And if we do have a chance to laugh, how refreshing and releasing.

When someone is preparing or waiting to die, their priorities completely change. Things that were important are not any more. Material things mean nothing. It’s the state of the heart that is all-important. The focus is on ‘Have I said all I want to say to others, have I got any regrets, is there something I need to do, to say sorry, to thank?’ I wonder if this focus on what we have or haven’t done would be a good way to look at making ourselves ready for Christ’s coming in this time. Have we forgiven that person, thanked that person, said sorry, are we ready to receive Christ once more?

From our Isaiah reading, ‘In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God’. We can feel that we are in a wilderness at the moment. But we can prepare for Christ in love and forgiveness of others and in receiving Christ’s love for us. In each of our situations, something good is happening, even if we feel it’s not, as when we pause intentionally to look at a beautiful sunset, or light a candle and breathe the air and wait prayerfully, silently, as we watch the flame.

Perhaps during this Advent time, as we prepare for Christ’s coming again, we can ask God to help us afresh to put him first in all things, to help us to draw closer to his love and, by his grace, be ready to receive him. And in that, to be his light to a dark world.

To finish, a poem for Advent:

to commemorate
the Arrival of Christ
a time of hope and joy
for renewal and compassion
for feeling Peace with the world
the Eternal Light is at the beginning
to lead us through the darkness.