Another memory of being alert and waiting is my son Michael who was a goal keeper for a football club. I can still see him when the other team came near the goal. He would bend down, hands apart, watching the ball intently, waiting for the goal kick to come so he could stop it. Alert and waiting.
Today is the first Sunday of Advent. Advent is taken from the Latin word, adventus, which means ‘coming’. A modern dictionary defines advent as, ‘the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event’. In advent we spend four weeks, four Sundays anticipating, expecting, longing for, hoping for the coming of Christ. We look for his second coming which we believe might happen at any time. We celebrate his first coming by anticipating and expecting the glory and light of Christmas morning. Are you waiting? Are you alert and waiting?
This morning our scripture readings remind us that God can come and break into our world at any time. (Jeremiah speaks of the Lord coming to fulfil God’s promises to establish justice and righteousness in all the world.) In Luke’s gospel we read: "Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap…Be alert at all times." In Paul’s letter he tells them as they wait: And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
Are you waiting? Are you alert and waiting? This morning I want to explore two ways we wait and are alert.
First, Jesus tells us as we wait for him to come again, we need to avoid becoming preoccupied with the pleasures and worries of this world. That line from the song or hymn is apt, ‘this world is not our home, we are just passing through’. As we wait we keep our eyes upward to the things of God. Now this does not mean we become so heavenly minded we are no earthly good. Nor does it mean we cannot be fully human embracing and enjoying this life that God has given us. But God is in us, drawing us into his ways. We are children of the kingdom of God so our values and priorities are not of this world or selfishly focused on ourselves.
St Paul says, ‘strengthen your heart in holiness that you may be blameless’. What does holiness mean to you? To be holy means to be set apart for God. A holy life is a life where we seek to honour God in who we are, what we do and what we say, in private, in our homes, at work, at play, at school, wherever. The path to holiness is a long and winding road, with ups and downs, barriers to climb over and go through. But placing our lives within a life of faith, hope and love gives us direction and perseverance. In Christ we are becoming. We wait by being his, by a deepening commitment to live God’s love and to reveal the grace that has touched us.
In Advent take a little extra time to draw near to God. Are you in an Advent study group? Go along to a mid-week service and say a prayer or two. Read a spiritually eye opening book. Add a little extra time to your prayer time. Take a few extra moments for devotions. Contemplate the mystery, the glory, the truth that was revealed in the manger and all that will be revealed when he will come again. In faith, hope and love, we wait.
Are you waiting? Are you alert and waiting? A second way Paul suggests we wait is to increase and abound in love for one another and for all. Relationships are hard and challenging. I read a saying this week that I liked: A perfect marriage is just two imperfect people who refuse to give up on each other. That is love. Love does not mean everyone is your best friend and that you even like everyone. Love means respecting everyone and striving for the best for all you love. Many churches could use a bit more love. We show our love by how we talk about others and how we speak to each other. It is good to share our opinions, but diplomacy is the loving way. We can even argue in a loving way. Love is how we conduct and how we end the discussion or argument.
And again, learning to love is another long and winding road with its ups and downs, and barriers to cross and go through. But it is what we seek to be, loving, for love has touched us. God is love. If we live in God, we will grow in love. As you wait, contemplate the ways of love and let it permeate who you are, what you do and what you say.
Are you waiting? Are you waiting and alert?
In conclusion, we wait by living a life of faith and hope and love. We walk a path in and towards holiness. We also walk a winding road in and towards love. When he came the first time he revealed what it means to be holy and what love really is. He will come again and may he find us a holy people with hearts full of love.
Revd Dennis Stamps