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In September we were fortunate enough to be on holiday in mid-Wales. Fortunate because travel and overnight stays were permitted – and blessed with weather worthy of the Mediterranean.
On the farm where we stayed there was the opportunity to watch for badgers. The farmer had created a treehouse that overlooked the entrance to a sett. So, one evening, just before dusk, we walked down to position ourselves in the hide.
We waited and we watched. Without moonlight it was hard to make out what was going on, and noises played as much a part as sight. After about 15 minutes our wait was rewarded – we saw several badgers. And it was worth the wait as we watched with joy a whole family snuffle for food but keeping alert for any danger.
We probably all have experience of this kind of waiting. For many it will be as a ‘twitcher’ – someone looking out for birds in the countryside; at a reserve; or even in a garden. And the idea of the ‘twitcher’ is a good one to think about for the season of Advent which we begin today. Because being a twitcher requires great patience – It requires you to keep very still; observing; waiting; watching. And while it may seem very passive, there is in the watcher a gentle sense of excitement – that after much waiting the observer might be rewarded with something very special.
In Mark’s Gospel this morning we hear Jesus talking about a similar time of waiting. But this is no hobby, and what is expected will change everything. It is the purpose of the Advent season to keep us awake – on our toes – mindful that nothing in life is ever certain, even the moment when everything is gathered back to God.
The readings in Advent are full of those who are waiting. John the Baptist looking for ‘the one who is to come’; a woman for her child; and a people for a King. All wait, all watch, and in this season of Advent we watch with them.
I think Advent is a strange season. It is both hopeful and apocalyptic. It promises salvation and restoration, but it does so through events that often sound dreadful and even violent.
It is described by Jesus as the birth pangs of the world, the onset of pain before the beginning of a life that is new.So we wait and watch. We hear in our readings for today a reminder for us to stay awake and keep alert. We are told that tomorrow holds no certainties and that even today our world might change in the blink of an eye.
Advent is a sober season which contrasts our waiting with God’s urgency a theme picked up in the poem
“First Coming” by Madeleine L’Engle.
He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine. He did not wait
till hearts were pure. In joy he came
to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
he came, and his Light would not go out.
Advent advances into the growing darkness of winter. It reminds us of the uncertain nature of the world, and of the hour of God’s coming. For those of us living in the West this year has jolted our sense of control and power. In a way in which many people live across the globe, we are experiencing uncertainty, restriction of freedoms and suffering.
The time in which we are living is not forever. The world is not forever. As Christians our mission is to be waiting with anticipation. Waiting for a God who appears when we least expect it – restoring our hope and disturbing our certainties.
Once again, this Advent, we stand in the company of those who have waited – watchful
and eager, for the coming of Christ. All those across the history of the Church who have
borne witness that ‘his light will not go out’.
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