Service on YouTube: https://youtu.be/uvm0uN-LJ8c (Sermon at 19:00mins)
We hear the tick tock of a clock
I wonder how that tick tock of waiting made you feel – whether it brought comfort or discomfort?
What are you waiting for? (a baby to be born, test results, something to be over, something to begin, a death!)
I wonder what you would say if I asked you what you are hoping for at the moment?
(maybe a bit of peace and quiet, a miracle cure, to be able to start over again, new knees, an early night, the opportunity for a very late night, a situation to change, for love or just a short sermon!!) Maybe you are hoping for hope? What is that deep longing that is inside you? As we begin Advent –we cannot escape the question – what are you, what are we as a church really hoping for?
I am going to tell you a shameful secret I know two in one morning!! When I read fiction I read the beginning get to know the characters and then flick to the end to see what happens!! People are often horrified by this reading method but this morning I am claiming it as an advent approach! I begin the journey, wait for the right moment and prepare myself for the journey to come so my hopes are not dashed by any sadness at the end but I am fully prepared. Life might not seem like that but for us it is a bit! We may not know what the end of our story looks like, we may not know what our future holds but we know that we hold to the hope that we will celebrate this Christmas in God born in flesh. Advent is a time of waiting and preparing when our hopes lie just beneath the surface of all that we do together.
Firstly we are preparing to celebrate Christmas – the birth of Jesus the one who is Hope – who brings light into a dark world. Through Advent we are not just waiting for Dec 25th so we can remember Jesus’ birth once again in our lives, we are also waiting for the return of Christ, at the end of time – we are to keep alert for we do not know when Christ will come. Being a time for waiting and preparation, Advent is a good time to reflect on what it means to hope as Christians.
We can sometimes make the mistake that hope is about predicting the future – a bit like reading the end of the book to avoid the disappointment. Sometimes we are bound by what has been important in the past – so therefore our hoping is limited by our imagination and experience.
We can also sometimes make the mistake that hope is about a kind of optimism that ignores how difficult our present situation can be. ‘I’m sure it will all be fine in the end- don’t worry.’ ‘All will be well’ But Christian hope is not about optimism that ignores real and difficult situations, or even about the past limiting the future. Christian hope is facing square on the difficulties and the sometimes grim reality of the present combined with the unpredictability of the future with the expectation of God breaking into our lives. That is why this time of Advent is so important, as we wait with real hope for God to break into our present and transform the darkness of our lives
– all those things we cannot control; broken relationships, illness, death, fear of what the future will hold for us and for those we love.
We do not need to try and control, manipulate, or worry about what is to come.
BUT we do need to pray and wait with expectation and real hope of God’s transforming light dawning into our present – changing our perceptions, our plans, changing our present and our future. Today is Advent Sunday – New Year in the Church calendar. Today we receive a special message from God… (the noise changes from tick tock tick tock to the sound of an alarm!) Wake up!! Wake up!!
Matthew reminds us that it is very easy to live as though our world is real and secure, that this is it and that there is no need for action, no need to prepare, maybe we have forgotten what it even is that we are preparing for? Until the day of the flood the people carried on with their normal lives oblivious to the animals gathering and hammering going on in Noah’s back yard! All of the examples in Matthew of people innocently getting on with their lives, or turning their backs at just the wrong moment –reminds us starkly that anyone of them could be anyone of us!
While Matthew focuses on preparation and being ready Isaiah reminds us what it is all for. At first glance this is all about a building restored to the centre but I wonder if we are meant to focus on the people streaming toward the holy mountain. What do they hope for? They are sick of war, they know they can no longer judge whether the fight is just, they stream up that mountain for a new way, longing for peace and a new way of living. They are people who have learned the hard way the cost of wrong choices and ache to be taught, prepared for a different world.
Isaiah’s deep longing is betrayed in the last verse ‘come let us walk in the light of the Lord’ Surely he begs people can see what God is offering? Maybe if we God’s people, prepare ourselves to walk in his light we will make the path plain for those who are lost and longing. Or is it shamefully often the other way round? Will it be the desperate, those utterly despairing of the world they know, lead us who are supposed to be God’s people, to God’s path?
We wait, we prepare, we long and we hope for God’s love breaking into the world with the birth of Jesus. But we need this to be a discipline and we need to light God’s light into the world this advent. The wonderful thing about belonging to a Christian community is that we don’t wait alone, we don’t prepare alone and we don’t hope alone but rather together. We take the light that we light in our own lives and share it, when someone is struggling to find the light we light their darkness for them, we seek out darkness and long to bring God’s light to it, we take the light of hope that we find in our faith this advent and share it with our community and our world.
What kind of hope is it that you are waiting for? The Gospel reading gives us a clue – ‘keep awake for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.’ – So we need to be awake so we don’t miss God right before our eyes. The point of this gospel passage is not the rather strange signs of the end, but waiting for Jesus to return. The signs of the end are given so that we will know that it is worth enduring through these times as we wait for the much greater moment when Jesus will come. It’s a rather strange message of hope –laying out before us all the disasters that are to come to encourage us to endure, to look beyond the disasters and keep our eyes fixed in the hope that comes at Christmas – Jesus God born as one of us, ushering in a new world– as it says in the book of Revelation ‘to wipe all tears from our eyes, no more pain, no more death.’
So I have given you each a tea light. Take it home with you. This week I encourage you to light it daily to pray, wait, prepare and hope. Knowing that others will be lighting theirs too. As we light the candle we pray for God’s light to be lit in us afresh this advent. As we wait, prepare and hope may we let go of what our hope might look like and allow ourselves with expectation to be surprised by God’s hope in Jesus. As we light the light of advent daily in our lives we look to wake up, both as disciples and as a community here, to be ready to see the dark places in the world and each other and illuminate them with the hope and light of advent as we wait for the greatest gift, love and hope of all – Jesus – in our lives and in the life of the church. Amen.