First Sunday of Advent
I’d like to start by telling you a story. It’s from a book called ‘The Orthodox Heretic’ by Peter Rollins. It’s called awaiting the Messiah.
‘There is an ancient story that speaks of a second coming of the Messiah. It is said that he arrived anonymously one dull Monday morning at the gates of a great city to go about his Father’s business.
There was much for him to do. While many years had passed since his last visit, the same suffering was present all around. Still there were the poor, the sick, and the oppressed. Still there were the outcasts, and still there were the righteous who pitied them, and the authorities who exploited them.
For a long time no-one took any notice of this desert wanderer with his weather-beaten face and ragged, dusty clothes – this quiet man who spent his time living among the sick and unwanted. The great city laboured on like a mammoth beast, ignorant of the one who dwelt within its bowels.
The story goes that the Messiah eventually decided to reveal his identity to a chosen few who had remained faithful to his teachings. These people met together in a tiny, unknown church on the outskirts of the city to pray and to serve the poor.
As the Messiah entered the modest sanctuary one Sunday morning, his eyes fell upon the tiny group huddled in the corner, each one praying and weeping for the day of the Lord. As they prayed, those who had gathered in the church slowly began to feel the gaze of Christ penetrate their souls. Silence began to descend withing the circle as they realised who had entered their sacred home.
For a time no-one dared speak. Then the leader of the group gathered her courage, approached Christ, fell at his feet, and cried, “We have waited so long for your return. For so many years we have waited patiently for you to come. Today, as with every other day, we prayed passionately for your arrival.”
Then she stood up and looked at Christ in the eyes:
“Now that you are with us we have but one question.”
Christ listened, knowing already what it would be.
“Tell us, Christ, when will you arrive?”
The Messiah did not answer but simply smiled. Then he joined the others in their prayers and tears.
He remains there still, to this very day, waiting, watching, and serving in that tiny, unknown church on the outskirts of the city.
In our Bible readings we have heard from the prophet Isaiah who is pointing to a time of peace and communion with God, and in Romans, Paul is urging his listeners to awake and be ready for the return of Christ. Both speak of a time to come, a time in the future but with a need to be ready and alert for what is to come.
A time of waiting.
A time to prepare.
A time to wake up.
Advent is a time rich in symbolism. Darkness to light. Asleep to awake.
But these things don’t just happen. There is a transition period from dark to light, asleep to awake. A transformation occurs.
The darkness gradually recedes and gives way to the dawn and if you’re anything like me it takes a little while to come to, out of a deep slumber to fully functioning.
For most of us it is the same in our walk with God. There may have been a road to Damascus experience when our scales fell away from our eyes and suddenly we saw the world clearly for the first time or, more likely we have had to rub our eyes quite vigorously at times as we blink in the strong sunlit reality of God’s world.
We live in the now and not yet times. We have had the incarnational mystery of Jesus showing us how to live life in all it’s fullness, but we operate within the twilight of our fallen world where it is not easy to shine brightly 24/7; where it is easy to confuse the morals of the world with its success driven, materialistic culture with our own success in life.
The story I read at the beginning is challenging. Would we recognise Jesus when he comes again, or would we be so caught up with our own troubles and woes that although he stood before us we could not see him? Would we know what we were even looking for?
We have a great gift to help us to navigate in this world, to help us to recognise Jesus, to guide us, renew us, encourage us and affirm us. God knew these times would be tricky so he gave us the Holy Spirit. We have the capacity within us to live in the light, to wake up to God’s reality and to be signposts for others who are searching.
How bright is our light shining today? How can we ensure we stay close to God, to stay awake, to thrive and flourish now in the waiting?
By being church is one way. And what I mean by that is by supporting each other in our Christian faith, praying together, loving each other, allowing God to use us by sharing the fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit with each other and those we meet – demonstrating love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
These are attractive qualities and will attract attention in our self-centred society, and, if we allow it, will point to Jesus.
This Advent as we wait we can lean into and glean strength from God with us, Emmanuel, and the Holy Spirit shining his light before us, around us and within us as we share the love of Jesus. We have a great gift to offer the world but so often we hide it. Let us uncover our light this advent and not be ashamed to tell others what gives us hope, what gives us strength and what gives us the power to love others as God loves us.