Annabelle was waiting very patiently. It was her playgroup Christmas party and Santa had come to visit. He had a very large sack of presents, and one by one he would call out a child’s name and give them a colourfully wrapped parcel. Annabelle is two, so now she knows what this is all about. When would Santa call her name? Nana realised that the tiny parcel had undoubtedly dropped to the bottom of the sack. Hers was the very last name to be called. Waiting can be excruciating. But the tiny pink necklace Santa had “chosen” for Annabelle was just right.
Right now some of our faith community are waiting – for a baby’s birth. Others are waiting at the other end of life’s spectrum, or battling debilitating medical conditions.. Students are waiting nervously for their exam results, couples are waiting excitedly for their wedding ………sometimes we even have to wait to go on the waiting list! Waiting experiences are part of the cycle of human existence. No one can avoid them. We all have times when we must watch and wait. Watching and waiting is what Advent, the four weeks running up to Christmas, is about. It is about waiting as the story of God’s love unfolds, to be celebrated with joy.
Baptists (and Free Church Presbyterians!) don't usually pay much attention to the Church year. Part of being non-Conformist is that we don't conform. And if following the Church year means slavishly adhering to a lectionary that may not be connected with where we are at as a church or a community, or prohibiting the use of flowers in the church because is it Lent, then I don't want a bar of it either. However, what I find of profound value is an awareness of the ancient practices that follow a chronological pattern. The Western church does this by starting with Advent, the anticipation of the Christ, paying special attention to the prophets who foresaw His coming in the purpose of God. Then we celebrate Christmas, by metaphorically journeying with Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem to Egypt and back. Along the way we recognise Epiphany, the coming of the Light into our world, and the rippling impact that had even on those we might have dubbed pagan. In the northern spring we come into Lent, seven weeks of "spring-cleaning" reflection and self-awareness that prepare us for the good news of Easter. Then just as the daffodils are blooming and trees are blossoming in the northern hemisphere, comes Easter, with its life-changing story of a tragic death that become a resurrection. (We in New Zealand have to work a little harder to make the "new life" connection, as we are moving into the slower growth of the colder seasons).
This month is liturgically the time known as Advent, which means "coming". The tradition is that we recall the first coming of the Christ, to the manger of Bethlehem, and anticipate his second coming, the triumphant return promised in passages like Acts 1 and Philippians 2: "Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess Him as Lord." The notion of waiting patiently, despite not knowing exactly how things will turn out, forms a common thread between these two. The ancient seers only gave hints of how the Messiah would appear, and many of the Jewish expectations were wide of the mark, both politically and theologically. These days we are beginning to see something of ourselves in the blindness of the Zealots, who expected a different kind of Messiah than Jesus turned out to be. Perhaps we too will find King Jesus, on his return, is not quite what we have been led to expect. There is more than a suggestion in Scripture that he will be far more interested in how we have prepared ourselves and his world for his return, rather than in "rapturing" us into the sky to leave it all behind.
I find this season of waiting make connections with lots of other times of watching and waiting we experience year-round. All of those other experiences have something to teach us about Advent. They remind us we can choose between a passive bored filling-in-time kind of waiting, or an active waiting in a state of readiness and excitement. Pregnancy is a particularly helpful example. Awaiting a baby's birth demands physical and emotional preparation, there are books to read, classes to attend and names to choose. We begin to notice the slightest flutter in our midsection, and to think about muscle cramps in terms of their regularity. In Advent too, we watch and listen to see what God is up to. When we notice his Spirit at work, we can respond in joy and hope - for we already know The Story.
Advent is a time to remember "Immanuel" means God is with us, in whatever we are going through right now.
“To watch for Christ in the world is to see that the Spirit within us
recognises the Spirit among us.”