The season of Advent marks the beginning of the Church's new year...the date from which our lectionary starts. (A lectionary is a list of readings which are set for the whole church). So I should wish you a Happy New Year really. It's a strange choice, on the church's part. Logic, as Mr Spock would say, would dicate another weekend for the start of the Church's year - perhaps Christmas, Easter, or Pentecost (thought of as the birthday of the Church).
But when the Church first agreed that Advent was the start of the year - they knew what they were doing. God's spirit was, I think, leading them to quite a profound view of the rhythm of life, and the rhythm of the church's year.
Waiting is something we all have to do from time to time. We wait for the dinner to be cooked, we wait for that new job to start, we wait for that wedding, that birthday, that major event in our family's life...or for the arrival of Christmas once again.
Waiting does us good. It teaches us to live in the moment...to be aware of what is to come, even to anticipate it with joy. But we learn, too, that life goes on, and that God is at work in us even on the darkest of winter days. By waiting we learn to curb our desires, to be content with what we have...to look for God and for happiness among the day to day - and not to invest all our hope in some future event.
All of us know what it is like to say 'if only such and such would happen...then everything would be alright'. And all of us know that hollow feeling of disappointment when what we have yearned for doesn't actually satisfy us. If you are fortunate enough never to have experienced that, then ask the millionaire lottery winner...who yearned to win their millions...and then found that having them did nothing to alter their bad relationships, or their addictions, or their general dissafisfaction with life. Ask the child who strained towards Christmas, looking forward to it with every fibre of their being, and then found that Mum and Dad still argued, and there were no batteries for the toy. Ask the compulsive shopaholic who imagines, from time to time, that just one more dress, or one more pair of shoes, or one more computer game will bring them them happiness they crave.
The present Archbishop of Canterbury describes the Christian faith as having a 'now and not yet' quality about it. We live our faith in the day to day, seeing the Kingdom begin established all around us through the every day actions of love which take place between all people of good will. But we also see the places where the Kingdom is not yet... and with the prophets and apostles of old, we yearn and we wait for 'thy kingdom come, thy will be done'.
Tonight (website note: at the Advent Carol Service with our friends at the neighbouring parish of the Ascension) we will be hearing the stories of waiting once again. We will be reminded of Abraham who had been promised much by God, but who had to go on with the day to day job of living obediently while he waited for God's promises to be fulfilled. We will be reminded of the prophets, and their Jewish followers...who looked forward with longing to the coming of the Messiah. We will think about the Mother of our Lord, who had to wait through the nine months of her pregnancy, and then the early years of her Son's life to see what the Angel had told her come to pass.
As we listen again to these stories, we shall be alert to the 'now'... to this holy moment of coming together, as people of God from two different traditions but united in love. We shall be alert to the activity of God in our lives, in our parishes, and in our world. We shall be alert to the dance of God, dancing the beat of the rhythm of life. We shall be alert to the voice of God - announcing and assuring us of his coming among us with grace and with power. "I am coming." "I am coming".
Amen! Maranatha. Come Lord Jesus!