Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility, that on the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Isaiah 64: 1 – 9
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence—as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil—to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed. We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity for ever. Now consider, we are all your people.
Waiting. It’s the hardest of things to do, isn’t it? Think of our children and grandchildren, our nephews and nieces. Christmas always seems as if it’s centuries away to them. And that wait for the end of school term or for their birthday to come round is such a trial for the wee souls! Think of us adults too. We are no different. Our relative wealth these days and all the new technologies we’ve come to rely on to get us through life just add to the difficulty we have with waiting. Wait ten seconds for a webpage to load? Aye, that’ll be right. Get a better internet provider with a faster connection. Wait five seconds for a document to print? Not on your nelly. Bin the old printer and buy a new one! Wait to cool down before sending that email or having a good old rant on social media? Are you kidding? Where’s the send button! Bang! If you snooze, you lose. That is our modern mantra.
So it shouldn’t really surprise us that this year has been a very frustrating one for so many of us. 2020 really has been one long exercise in waiting. And if reports on the radio and television are anything to go by, we’ve found it difficult, very difficult indeed. We’ve had to wait during lockdowns and quarantines. We’ve had to wait on masks and respirators and toilet paper. We’ve had to wait on test results for coronavirus, wondering if we were positive or not. We’ve had to wait endless weeks and months unable to visit our loved ones in hospitals and nursing homes. We’ve had to wait on our young people going back to school and we’ve had to wait to see if we’d lose or retain our jobs. We’ve had to wait for a vaccine. And we’ve had to wait to go back to church and to do church in the old ways that were familiar and comfortable to us. This really has been a year of having to wait. And it’s been a frustrating time for a lot of people.
Throughout scripture we are called to be a people who wait but, to add challenge to the mix, we are called to be a people who do our waiting well. Not as those who are bored, or frustrated, or bad tempered but as those who are hopeful in our waiting, faithful in our waiting, loving in our waiting, productive in our waiting. This season of Advent that we’ve just entered today is the time in the liturgical calendar when we get our annual and specific call to wait, to wait upon the Lord.
That call to wait obviously involves waiting for the coming of the Christ Child on Christmas Day, that glorious moment of incarnation when God comes to be with us in human form. And to help us in our waiting we do a daily or a weekly countdown with our Advent Calendars or our Advent Candle Ceremonies in the hope that they will make the long wait for December the 25th that wee bit more bearable.
But along with waiting for the incarnation of the Christ Child we’re also invited, more subtly, to wait for the signs of the incarnation in our own lives. We’re invited to wait and see the new and next ways that God will be manifest in us, in our own individual times and places. Yes, we wait to celebrate God with us at Christmas, but we also wait asking where and how in us?
And for that we need plenty of patience, of which there is no better example, no better inspiration, than the patience of Mary as she waited for her pregnancy to come to fruition and for the birth of her child to take place. Mary’s time of waiting was almost as long as ours has been since the start of this pandemic. We all know what was blossoming and growing in Mary as she waited. But what has been blossoming and growing in us during this time of waiting? What new things have been gestating in our spiritual lives, in the life of our congregation, in the community at large, in these past nine months when we have been forced to slow down and to ask what is most important us? How have we found new strength and grace by the need to adapt and the new challenges we’ve had to face?
Mary’s time of waiting had a purpose and an end and she patiently and faithfully pursued it with God’s help. As we think about our own waiting this year, so we ask what has God grown in us out of our patience and faith? What little changes in us will be our gift to the world this Christmas?
If we’ve been feeling kind of stretched and sore, of late, then maybe that’s a good sign! Because the process of being changed, of being made ready for incarnation, is a slow and at times painful one. Fortuntely we don’t have to bear the pain on our own. God is with us in it as we wait. As the endless days of waiting crawl by God is active within us and our communities. Isaiah tells us: “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” In other words, we are God’s work of art, being painstakingly shaped into vessels of incarnation that will bring the presence of Christ to the world. We are a masterpiece. And a masterpiece takes time.
St Paul also reminds us of what we need to hold on to through the long, weary days of waiting for transformation. “You are not lacking in any spiritual gift,” he says, “as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end.” So, let’s look back on this year and acknowledge the strength we’ve found that helped us through its trials and tribulations. Let’s see the creativity that has bubbled up in our church community to enable us all to walk together in new ways. Let’s see the call to justice and peace that continued to echo loud and clear, even when our society, our world, seemed to be at its most bitterly divided. And let’s give thanks that it has all led to this – the season of Advent, the season of upheaval and waiting, of change and pause, of grace and truth.
And so we pray and we stick together and we love one another and we wait upon the Lord. And Isaiah, the great prophet of Advent, announces the Good News: “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
Lord God, as we begin this season of Advent with thoughts of your Son’s first coming in the flesh and his second coming at the end of time, so we remember that we are in waiting times, in-between times, times in which we, nevertheless, need to remain alert and awake for his return and active in serving the kingdom. Hear us this day as we recommit ourselves to that service. And accept the prayers we offer for people everywhere, people who long to experience your love and liberation…
We pray for the world: for an end to all conflict, division and misery. We remember that Jesus came to bring peace, reconciliation and fullness of life. We pray for these things for the peoples of The Holy Land, Syria, Libya, The Yemen and for communities across the globe devastated by coronavirus. Bless and strengthen those who promote the ways of Christ in these places and us, as we play our own part, wherever we find ourselves.
We pray for the Church: throughout the world, here in Scotland, in our Diocese of Glasgow & Galloway and in this region of Lanarkshire. We remember that Jesus came to bring good news to the poor, liberation to the captive, and sight to the blind. Bless and strengthen Kevin our Bishop in his ministry, everyone dedicated to the ways of Christ and the kingdom and us, as we play our own part, wherever we find ourselves.
We pray for those who suffer in body, mind or spirit. We remember that Jesus was always willing to heal the sick and to make whole the fragmented and the dislocated. We pray for healing for those whom we know to be sick or anxious at this time. Bless and strengthen those who exercise the same care as Christ and us, as we play our part in bringing wholeness to people and situations wherever we find ourselves.
Lord God, keep us alert, keep us active, keep us faithful, so that when Jesus comes again in glory, he may find us ready and waiting in faith, hope and love. We make our prayer in his name and for the kingdom’s sake. Amen.