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Reflection on 29th November, Advent Sunday
Rachael has talked of the nature of waiting. I’d like to explore what we’re waiting for, and why we’re waiting. The word ‘Advent’ itself gives us a clue. It comes from the Latin for ‘arrival’. We are waiting for Christ’s return, that great, momentous day when He comes in glory to rescue and restore this fallen world and claim His rightful place as Lord and King. That’s a lot to get our head round. As a result, it’s not something we think about that much. Most of our time is spent just getting by. Any plans we make tend to be for the near future. The end of time feels too far off to matter. But of course, it matters massively. Because when Christ comes – and our Gospel readings in the past few weeks, today’s included, have stressed that He can come at any time – He will satisfy the strongest needs of every human heart.
Ask anyone what they crave most, and you’ll hear the same answers: peace, health, justice, joy. To be loved and treasured, safe and secure. Not having to worry any more. These are our deepest desires, and when Christ comes again, they will be fully, finally satisfied. On that day, all that spoils our world – war, oppression, hatred, hunger – will be banished and everything made new. Christ will right all the wrongs of humankind. Surely that is worth waiting for. Back in the first lockdown, my friend Mark said he greeted a trip to Wickes with a sense of wonder he’d normally struggle to muster for the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. However fond you are of DIY, God’s ultimate plan for this world is so much more exciting than that!
And we can wait not just with excitement, but with sure and steadfast hope. People can often let us down, not necessarily deliberately, but because we’re fallible and sometimes forgetful. But we are waiting for God, on whom we can rely more than anything and anyone in this frail world. Christ has already confounded doubters by crossing into Earth from Heaven, born of a virgin and rising from the dead, fulfilling long-held promises. So we can be sure that He will return just as ancient prophecies and His own words foretold.
What is more, hymn-writers through the ages have been stirred and inspired to fix our focus on the day of deliverance. Take these lines by James Montgomery which we sang earlier in ‘Hail to the Lord’s Anointed’: “He shall come down like showers upon the fruitful Earth”, and “O’er every foe victorious He on His throne shall rest”. Likewise, “Every eye shall now behold Him”, wrote the peerless Charles Wesley in our final hymn. There’s no hint of doubt, no hedging of bets. Their words, like those of many others, are shot through with certainty.
When we’ve waited so long, such certainty can prove elusive. Yet with God, our waiting is always worthwhile. One question we may ask is ‘Why are we waiting?’ Well, to me, as so often, the answer lies in God’s love. God is waiting not because He’s weak or indecisive. As the Creator of us all, it’s only natural that He wants every heart to welcome Christ. What creator wills to condemn their own creation?
While we are waiting, God is working. While we are calling ‘O come, O come, Emmanuel’, He is quietly changing hearts, moulding minds and opening ears to His words and ways. When enough people are open to justice and fairness, whether Christians or not, God will act.
We have our own part to play in that work. For people can’t welcome Christ if they’ve never heard of Him. Our waiting stems from a justified, fervent hope, the hope of a place in a new and perfect world ruled by the Righteous One. Remember, the victory has already been won. Sin and death were conquered on the cross. Christ’s perfect reign is on its way. Eternity is merely a matter of time. As we wait, may we share our precious hope, encouraging each other when patience wears thin, and telling others of the wondrous, endless future that lies ahead, so that one day, along with all creation, we can stand and joyously proclaim with one elated voice, ‘Lo! He comes with clouds descending!’