I wonder if you’ve ever been on one of those car journeys where you’ve finally got everything and everyone loaded up, and ready to go, and finally get on your way much later than you hoped. At this rate you won’t be there until midnight. And then, after you’ve barely got to the end of the road a little voice from the back seat piped up, “Are we nearly there yet?”
“No, we’re not there yet. We’ve just left home.”
Half an hour minutes later the voice pipes up again, “Are we there yet?”
“No. Read your book.”
Five minutes later, “Are we nearly there yet?”
“No. Read your book.”
Another five minutes later, “Are we nearly there yet?”
“No, I’ll tell you when we get there.”
After about fifteen or twenty more, “Are we nearly there yet” enquiries, many parents explode, “No! And if you ask me that question one more time you’re in big trouble!” (Ill-defined and unenforceable threats being a speciality of modern parenting.)
Advent is the season of waiting. Sometimes waiting patiently; other times waiting quite impatiently. What are we waiting for?
Most of us are, with the rest of the world, waiting for Christmas to get here.
And while we wait we have a lot of practical things to do. Presents to buy and wrap and send, cards to write and address and post, parties to host or attend.
And many of us are either going to visit someone, or we are getting ready for others to come and visit us, or both.
And somehow, in the midst of all that, we have to find room for the religious part of our Christmas celebration.
It’s a busy, busy time.
And there are times when many of us just wish it would come and go quickly, so that we can get on with our lives.
And there are other times when we wish it would wait a while, giving us some more time to get ready.
Those of us in the church are also waiting for still other things as well during this Advent season.
We are waiting for Jesus to come again “…to judge the living and the dead,” (the Apostles’ Creed.)
Advent reminds us that God is not yet finished, not with us and not with the world.
Creation and redemption are not once and for all, over and done with acts of God.
God created the world and keeps on actively creating it. God in Christ acted to redeem the world and God in Christ keeps on actively redeeming it.
As Jeremiah says “. . . he will execute justice and righteousness in the land,” and until that is done, God is not done.
Advent is also a time when we are waiting for the Christ Child to be born anew in our hearts.
Life gets tiresome and weary at times, and our souls and spirits can grow numb and cold.
The cares of life, the mistakes and missteps begin to pile up. We can find ourselves slogging through to the best of our ability but somehow, our best just does not seem to be good enough anymore.
And so we wait;
we wait for the Christ Child;
we wait for the long-expected Jesus;
we wait for a glimmer of light in the world’s darkness;
we wait for the renewal of hope in our lives.
While we wait, let us look for signs that our time of waiting may soon be over.
“What are the things we are to look for?”
“What will happen so that we will know?”
“Are we nearly there yet?”
Often people have looked for these signs with a sense of dread and foreboding. Those who regularly make predictions of the end of the world, so far always proved wrong, have used Bible passages like the one we heard today in Luke’s Gospel to try to scare people into a commitment to Christ.
I don’t believe that’s not the message Jesus is getting at here. The parable of the fig tree points to a more optimistic and hopeful promise. Jesus says, “You know that winter is almost over when the fig tree begins to sprout new leaves.” That is a sign that the time of darkness and cold and death is almost over; the time of light and warmth and new life is at hand. Jesus is reminding us that the signs of the time are not bad, but good; not doom and destruction, but joy and jubilation. The disturbances the world goes through when Christ enters in are not death rattles, but rather birth pangs; not the end but the beginning of life.
And so, how are we to spend our time while we are waiting? In our reading, Luke went on to say, “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down . . .”
“Be on your guard,” is just one, perfectly acceptable, way of translating the Greek, itself a translation of spoken Aramaic. An equally acceptable translation might be, “Pay attention to yourselves.” That might mean that we should look after one another, take care of each other, protect each other from any loss of hope and faith. Between the time when Jesus first came, and the time when Jesus will come again (whatever that means), we have been called to the ministry of paying attention to each other.
Jesus is calling us to actively participate in changing the world.
Jesus is calling us to become a part of the struggle for peace and justice in the world.
Jesus is calling us to feed the hungry,
to clothe the naked,
to house the homeless,
the lift up the downtrodden,
to bind up the broken-hearted,
to raise the dead in spirit to new life in Christ.
Jesus is calling us not so much to look for signs of his coming, but rather to be signs of his coming.
Jesus is calling us to be sprouts on the fig tree of new life.
Jesus is calling us to be a voice louder than the roaring of the seas as we proclaim the love of God.
Jesus is calling us to shine as bright as the sun and moon and stars as we show forth the light of Christ in a dark and lonely world.
And when those little backseat voices ask us, “Are we nearly there yet?”, surely we can joyfully answer, “No, not yet, but we are on the way, and God is coming to meet us soon.”