Advent Sunday

Readings

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
 
How we thank God for you! Because of you we have great joy as we enter God’s presence. 10 Night and day we pray earnestly for you, asking God to let us see you again to fill the gaps in your faith.

11 May God our Father and our Lord Jesus bring us to you very soon. 12 And may the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow, just as our love for you overflows. 13 May he, as a result, make your hearts strong, blameless, and holy as you stand before God our Father when our Lord Jesus comes again with all his holy people. Amen.

Luke 21:25-36
25 “And there will be strange signs in the sun, moon, and stars. And here on earth the nations will be in turmoil, perplexed by the roaring seas and strange tides. 26 People will be terrified at what they see coming upon the earth, for the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on a cloud with power and great glory. 28 So when all these things begin to happen, stand and look up, for your salvation is near!”

29 Then he gave them this illustration: “Notice the fig tree, or any other tree. 30 When the leaves come out, you know without being told that summer is near. 31 In the same way, when you see all these things taking place, you can know that the Kingdom of God is near. 32 I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass from the scene until all these things have taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear.

34 “Watch out! Don’t let your hearts be dulled by carousing and drunkenness, and by the worries of this life. Don’t let that day catch you unaware, 35 like a trap. For that day will come upon everyone living on the earth. 36 Keep alert at all times. And pray that you might be strong enough to escape these coming horrors and stand before the Son of Man.”

Homily by the Rev’d Kate Pearson

We have arrived at the beginning of Advent. The season of waiting. I wonder what we’re waiting for and how we’re going to wait?

This week my friend’s tortoise, Freddie the Flash, went into hibernation. At nearly 100 years old, he’s got this waiting thing down to a tee. Freddie is waiting for the spring, when his body temperature will rise and he can dash about the garden once more. Until then, he’s gone to bed. Well, he’s gone to bed in a box, in a fridge.

Hibernation is the ultimate snub to the winter. And it’s tempting to think that’s what we need to do. With a new Covid variant coming into the UK; fears about supplies of food and gifts; another Christmas party at risk; 27 desperate lives lost in the Channel. Perhaps the tortoise has got it right and attempting a form of hibernation through the next couple of months is what’s called for.

Or, maybe we have something else to wait for, and an invitation to wait in a different way.

So what are Christians waiting for anyway?

We’re waiting for Jesus. We know the first bit of that wait for Jesus well, we’re waiting along with the people of God 2000 years ago for the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, God incarnate. But that is just a remembrance of waiting. What are we waiting for today? We can lose track in our Christian faith that Jesus not only promises he’ll never leave us, not only sent his Holy Spirit to be with us always but also promises to come back. Jesus will return. Now I’m not going to predict how that coming will look – no-one pre-Darwin could have predicted that creation would have involved evolution after all and we’d be foolish to try and attempt to decide what Jesus’ return might involve.

But there are promises and they are of hope and of drying tears. Of seeing all of our loved ones again. Put away those dreadful medieval images, which take passages out of context to scare us into behaving. The hope of waiting is for true freedom; healing; wholeness – we’re waiting for joy. Because if the life, death and resurrection of God incarnate, Jesus, tells us something, they certainly tell us that joy always comes and love always wins. It can just take a while. And so we wait.

And how will we wait?

In a box in a fridge, stored at 5 degrees celsius to ensure a calm and safe hibernation like my friend’s tortoise? Or perhaps, whatever is going on, we get to wait with expectation, with hope, celebrating those glimpses of joy that will come as we journey through life.

Our hope cannot have us hiding in fridges, waiting for the dawn to come – this waiting is active. It’s not desperate, but it is active.

And the God we wait for is active too. There are signs of God’s love all around us. Perhaps a practice for Advent might be to look for the gifts of that love each day – kind words from a friend; a nod from a stranger; a letter in the post at the right time. This is prayer. Prayer is enter into the divine conversation that is going on all around us all the time. We can make prayer very complicated. But it’s really very simple, it involves staying still long enough for God’s love to reach us. Really it’s just a form of waiting.

When my friend’s tortoise emerges in the Spring, the first thing he’ll do is find a stone to prop himself up on so that he can point his shell directly to the sun – soaking up the rays that come. He can’t rush this, he can’t make the sun burn brighter in order to warm his body. But he can turn up and he can wait. No fancy words are needed in prayer. And any time we give to the notion of entering this conversation with God is eagerly and lovingly taken up by Jesus who is delighted to hear from us. Sometimes prayer involves words, sometimes it can just be sitting quietly, waiting for the rays of God’s love touch us. I wonder how that might look for us this Advent – start small and manageably, maybe just a few minutes a day as we learn to wait with hope and expectancy for our active and loving God.

Because Jesus is coming.

I’ll leave you with a poem by Rowan Williams called Advent Calendar.

He will come like last leaf’s fall.
One night when the November wind
has flayed the trees to the 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.

Intercessions

In joyful expectation of his coming
we pray to Jesus, saying,
Maranatha.*
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Come to your Church as Lord and Judge.
We pray for our world as it deals with
the pandemic, climate change and a refugee crisis.
Help us to live in the light of your coming
and give us a longing for your kingdom.
Maranatha.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Come to your world as King of the nations.
We pray for our country
for health for our Queen,
wisdom for her government,
compassion for all in need.
Before you rulers will stand in silence.
Maranatha.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Come to your people with a message of victory and peace.
We pray for all troubled by temptations,
addictions and weaknesses;
who struggle to forgive themselves for harming
themselves and those they love.
Give us the victory over death, temptation and evil.
Maranatha.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Come to us as Saviour and Comforter.
We pray for all who are unwell in mind, body or spirit;
for those struggling to face the week, the day or the hour ahead;
for those grieving and broken with the pain of loss.
Break into our lives,
where we struggle with sickness and distress,
and set us free to serve you for ever.
Maranatha.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Come to us from heaven, Lord Jesus,
with power and great glory.
Lift us up to meet you,
with all your saints and angels,
to live with you for ever.
Maranatha.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

*This Aramaic word is traditionally translated, ‘Our Lord, come.’

Closing Worship

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