Waiting for the baby to be born, but also for the time when there will be no more pain or tears
Mary Copping, 5 December 2021
Philippians 1: 3–11; Luke 3: 1–6
A commercialised, materialistic Christmas often forgets the greatest Christmas gift of all. In preparations for Christmas – buying presents, putting up decorations, sending out Christmas cards – there’s often a lot of stress and pressure, with families thinking about getting together knowing that relationships might be fraught. Some can’t afford to buy much, so Christmas emphasises the lack of money. For many, it’s not a happy time. We can all get caught up in the drive for a good Christmas. Yet we can forget what it’s all about: the coming of Jesus as a baby in that quiet stable.
In our gospel reading we hear how John the Baptist was preparing people for Christ’s coming. He was an extremely bold and forthright preacher, telling (almost warning) people about the coming of Christ. And in his preaching he tells the people how to prepare. He emphasises the repentance needed to prepare, the change of heart, the turning away from wrong ways of doing things. He was offering a baptism of repentance and was preparing for Jesus’ coming, saying that Jesus would baptise people with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
John called for repentance: being sorry for the wrong we do and then turning things around and doing things better, differently. How would we feel if we were brought to task by John for our wrong ways? Many would respond, ‘Well I haven’t murdered anyone, haven’t stolen anything, so I’m quite good really’. And yet, in the light of the holiness of God, all fall short; none of us is perfect. In this Advent time, how are we preparing for Christ’s coming in our hearts, how do we make room for him to live in us? We can approach this in many ways – through prayer, Bible reading, spending quiet time in God’s presence.
John Draper, a Christian author who often speaks on Thought for the Day, in an Advent meditation encourages us to find quiet with God – specifically, to find a bench to sit on and gaze out at the world. He describes how he did that and saw the world from a completely different angle. He also makes the point that the phrase ‘God is nowhere’ can with the help of a little space become ‘God is now here’, courtesy of a bench or a quiet corner. God is nowhere – God’s absence – becomes when resting in his presence, be it on a bench or at home in a quiet corner, ‘God is now here’. But it takes some watching, sometimes, like the shepherds, to catch a different glimpse of reality. For us, is there somewhere we can sit and be and watch – time out of our busy worlds to spend that time with God? It’s not arduous and could be fun, and we could notice things we would not otherwise see.
‘God is nowhere’ can with the help of a little space become ‘God is now here’.
We’re waiting for the baby to be born, but also at this Advent time waiting for God to bring in his new kingdom, as spoken of in the Bible, where there will be no more pain or tears. How do we wait? Someone described it as a bit like waiting at a bus stop. If we know the exact time that the bus is due, we can relax, check our watches occasionally and wait. However, if we don’t know when the bus is due, we are on the alert all the time, looking out for our bus – no relaxation here. Is this how we wait for the Lord, as in ‘Wait for the Lord, whose day is near, wait for the Lord, keep watch, take heart’?
If we were aware of Jesus with us now, would we be happy for him to see how we are living, or would we want to amend our ways? Of course, we don’t live our lives on the alert, looking at our watches all the time (unless we do lead stressful lives). But we should be aware of how we live as Christians, how we live our lives to honour Christ, how we wait for his coming. Of course we’re not perfect and do things wrong, but we have forgiveness through Christ, and we can start afresh every morning. This Advent time is a time when we can watch and wait, take time to think on how we live and how we could live better, especially in relation to how we use the resources of the world. We can make time to be with God in prayer, in waiting, in patience.
One of my favourite verses in the Bible is from Romans: ‘May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit’. In this time of not knowing what is going to happen about Covid, with fears about climate change, refugees looking for a place to stay, it is hard for us to know the hope that is in God.
As we prepare to receive Christ, as we wait for his coming as a baby and his second coming (however we understand that), let us wait in hope – not the hope that hopes that something may happen but also might not, but the Christian hope, our hope in God through Jesus Christ. This is confident affirmation that God is faithful, that he will complete what he has begun. It is also, therefore, that confident expectation which waits patiently and ardently for God’s purposes to be fulfilled.
Romans 15: 13, ‘May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.’ Amen.