Waiting in hope and confident expectation
Mary Copping, 27 November 2022
Isaiah 2: 1–5; Matthew 24: 36–44
Has Christmas come too early? It looks like it, with Christmas things in the shops, with decorations up already. I’ve even seen Christmas trees festooned with lights in house windows. Yes, we know that this is the first Sunday of Advent, a time of waiting and longing. Yet in this age, people have been waiting a long time for the pandemic to be over and then waiting to see how the money is going to stretch out, how things are going to work out in this dark world. So perhaps the lights are a sign of people just longing for something better at Christmastime and longing for hope for the future.
The word Advent comes from the Latin adventus, meaning ‘arrival’ or ‘coming’ – particularly the coming of something of great importance. Advent, then, is both a time of joy-filled celebration at the arrival of Jesus Christ and a preparatory period of repentance, meditation, and penance – thus the colour of purple for this season.
As Christians we know that our hope is in Christ as we wait for his coming as a baby – something that happened many years ago, but a reminder for us of the wonder of God sending his precious Son to us as a baby and as Saviour of the world. We’re waiting for the baby to be born, but also at Advent, waiting for God to bring in his new kingdom, as spoken of in the Bible, where there will be no more pain or tears.
We’re waiting for the baby to be born, but also for God to bring in his new kingdom, where there will be no more pain or tears.
How do we wait? Our gospel reading urges people to be ready for the coming of the Son of Man, however that may be understood. 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 the Taizé chant, ‘Wait for the Lord, whose day is near, wait for the Lord, keep watch, take heart’. If we’re aware of Jesus coming to be with us, are we happy for him to see how we are living, or do we want to amend our ways, say sorry for some of the things we have done? Of course, we don’t live our lives on the alert all the time, looking at our watches (unless we lead very stressful lives). But at this time we think of how we live as Christians, how we live our lives to honour Christ, how we wait for his coming.
So how are we preparing for Christ’s coming in our hearts, how do we make room for him to live in us? Many years ago, I spent time with the Sisters of Bethany being prepared to become a Franciscan Tertiary. At a service we were going to be singing, ‘There’s room in my heart, Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for thee’. A sister advised me that I needed to sing, ‘Make room in my heart, Lord Jesus, make room in my heart for thee.’
We can approach making room for him in many ways: through prayer, Bible reading, spending quiet time in God’s presence to attend to him. The philosopher and mystic Simone Weil said, ‘Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity’. Of course, this applies to all those we meet. But it applies even more to God.
To give God more attention at this time would be of huge blessing to us and very pleasing to God – to give him space to speak to us to spend time quietly in his presence, to listen to him as we go about our lives, to ask him how he wants us to live, what he wants us to do. Often we’re so busy looking down at the ground, looking at what is in front of us, that we forget to look up to God and give him the space to help us in our lives, to give us the strength to get through sometimes difficult days, and to give us what we need to help those around us – for us to receive his love and so that we can give that love to others.
From our reading from Isaiah: ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths’. This is a specific journey to God to listen to him and be taught by him.
As we approach Advent, we are reminded by the Lakota author and activist Doug Good Feather that every morning is a fresh start. He says:
Each and every morning offers us a chance to start anew, fresh, and to begin again. Each morning when we wake – should we choose to listen – is a message from the Creator to remember the privilege we were given of waking up. It’s a reminder to get up and prepare our self, to honour our self, to go out into the world, to connect with Mother Earth and the hearts of other beings, to inspire and encourage those who cross our paths, and most importantly, to enjoy life.
(Think Indigenous: Native American Spirituality for a Modern World, p. 27)
In this time of still not knowing what is going to happen about Covid, fears about climate change, refugees looking for a place to stay, it is hard for us to know the hope that is in God and yet we have that hope, given by him. As we prepare to receive Christ, as we wait for his coming – as a baby and in his second coming, however we understand that – let us wait in hope. This is not the hope that hopes that something may happen yet also might not; but rather, the Christian hope, our hope in God through Jesus Christ, 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.