Advent waiting

Mark 13:32-37
Isaiah 9:2,6-7

The bells of waiting Advent ring, the tortoise stove is lit again, begins John Betjeman’s famous poem. If you go into our Church Hall, you can still see the stone slab where the tortoise stove once stood. If you think our church is too modern, at least we kept the slab. If you think we’re too old-fashioned, be thankful we haven’t still got the tortoise stove.

I mentioned that poem because in those first few words, Betjeman links Advent with waiting, and its waiting I want to talk about today. Children, it seems to me, bring waiting into a whole new experience for most parents. Many people wait years and years and years to be able to have children in the first place, far more than we realise, and then for some that wait is never fulfilled.

The waiting goes on, though. I’ve met many women about 8 and a half months pregnant, desperate for their waiting to be over, for the baby to arrive. It has to be said there are plenty of fathers at that point quite happy to go on waiting a little while longer.

Then, of course, there’s waiting in the delivery room, even if that’s only a few hours it can feel like waiting a lifetime, which of course it is more ways than one.

Even before the baby arrives, there’s more than enough waiting, but that’s when it seems the waiting really begins. Waiting for them to finish feeding, waiting while their wind comes up, waiting for them to go to sleep.

Before you know it, it’s then waiting outside nursery for them to finish, then waiting outside the school gate, then waiting to collect them from cubs, or guides, or ballet, or the chess club, or the young bird watchers. From then it’s a short step to waiting for the late night phone calls for the lift home, which transform into waiting up for whenever they come in.

It’s impossible to avoid there’s a great deal of waiting involved with children, all the way from conception to adulthood. Even so, we often find ourselves teaching children to wait:
“No, not now, you can have that when you’re older.”
“Just wait a minute and I’ll get it for you.”
“Wait until your birthday.”
“Wait a bit, and just be patient.”

But somewhere along the line, those lessons about waiting are forgotten, or not passed on to the next generation, and so impatient drivers tailgate those they think are going too slow, and our blood boils after pressing buttons on the phone as requested by the computerised voice on the other end only to be told that we have put on hold and that we are 26th in the queue. We have our photos developed in an hour, take our clothes to the same day dry cleaners, and buy food to take away. We pay our bills over the phone, and do our banking on the internet where there are no long lines of waiting people. When a lift takes a long to time to arrive, we give the button another series of rapid jabs.

Ours is a world in which we find ourselves waiting, but one in which we find waiting uncomfortable and challenging. Yet, as we wait, there are signs of hope. Today we baptise Sophie, and that’s a sign and a seal of God’s love for her. A sign of hope in amongst a world of waiting. Our reading from Isaiah talked about unto us a child is born. Today we focus upon Sophie, and William. Like all children, they bring joy and hope.

And in this season of Advent beginning today, we’re waiting for another child, the baby Jesus, whose coming we celebrate at Christmas. In our reading from Mark’s gospel we were reminded to keep awake, for we don’t know the day or the hour when God will come. During these four weeks before Christmas, we wait for something unplanned, overwhelming, something that makes a colossal difference, we long for it and yet we don’t quite know what it’s going to involve.

But this waiting is a bit odd isn’t it, you might say. Surely Jesus came into the world two thousand years ago, and by now we ought to know what sort of difference he’s made? But the truth is that we don’t yet know the difference Jesus might make. We know some of the difference he’s made to our lives as individuals, to the life of the Christian community, the Church, to the whole world. And yet there’s more. We’re still waiting to see what might happen if Jesus was allowed into our lives that bit more fully; that bit more radically.

Advent’s a season completely at odds with how the world around us prepares for Christmas. Waiting on God means that, we wait. We wait for that which God has promised. We wait for God to set the world to rights; a time when there will be no more tears, no more pain. We wait for healing, a time when sickness and death are replaced with life and joy. We wait for the coming of the promised child. A sign of God’s faithfulness to us. A sign that God is with us and that he will do what it is that he has promised to do.

Advent is the invitation to wait with hope for the future that is to come. Today we see hope for the future especially in Sophie, and rightly so. May she also be a reminder to us of the other baby who will come to us in the manger at Christmas. God’s future promise as we prepare for Christmas. May this advent be for us a time when we are ready to trust and to hope.

I want to end with a poem by Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury:

He will come like last leaf’ s fall.
One night when the November wind
has flayed the trees to bone, and earth
wakes choking on the mould,
the soft shroud’s folding.

He will come like frost.
One morning when the shrinking earth
opens on mist, to find itself
arrested in the net
of alien, sword-set beauty.

He will come like dark.
One evening when the bursting red
December sun draws up the sheet
and penny-masks its eye to yield
the star-snowed fields of sky.

He will come, will come,
Will come like crying in the night,
like blood, like breaking,
as the earth writhes to toss him free.
He will come like child.

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