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10am Sung Eucharist – Sunday 1 December 2019
Patience – waiting – is not one of my virtues.
Good things, things I’m looking forward to, can never arrive too soon and right now, it’s probably the way a lot of children feel about Christmas.
Waiting comes in many forms. We can wait for something with apprehension – perhaps the result of medical tests or the outcome of an interview.
Alternatively, we can wait with sheer excitement for a special occasion; an anniversary, a party.
Sometimes we have a mixture of these feelings.
I thought about this a couple of years ago whilst waiting in line at Universal Studios in Orlando for the Harry Potter ride which took you down into the vaults of Gringots bank.
I wanted to go on it, but as we moved along there were signs that made me have mixed feelings about the prospect. So for example one said:
“This is a high-speed roller coaster ride that
includes sudden and dramatic acceleration,
climbing, tilting, and dropping. You will be turned completely upside-down several times.”
(Perhaps a sign which we ought to have for new Canons!)
I was in the queue, committed to going, but my anticipation began to be mingled with real anxiety.
In our society a lot of effort goes into supporting the experience of waiting.
Digital signs at stations, on the motorway and at bus stops, all try to manage the anxiety waiting can produce.
We are impatient creatures and business and government understand the need to manage our waiting, our anticipation and our frustration.
We only need to take a few steps out of the Minster to experience a world disinclined to wait. In our restaurants and shops we can have Christmas today – its sparkle, its food and its celebration.
Yet for the Church, Advent is about more than the flightpath to Christmas.
It’s a season full of signs about what the birth of Jesus means. Not for one day, but for all days. Not simply about jollity, but about the second coming; about our mortality, judgement, being with God – and the idea of not being with God.
And rather like my Harry Potter experience, the signs aren’t cosy or devoid of risk.
Our Gospel reading seems entirely compatible with the idea of sudden “acceleration, climbing, tilting, and dropping”. People will be together; one will be taken and one will be remain.
We are not left with a vision of comfort, but of dramatic transformation. The image for God here is the thief in the night – the unwanted visitor who disrupts the home.
Advent tells us that God’s coming will be an unsettling and disturbing experience. With God comes change, change we may not have looked for.
Both the Israelites and the early Christians were preparing themselves for the ending of history and the start of God’s reign.
It might be tempting to see this as something which is eternally about tomorrow. But as our prayer for today tells us, the urgency to prepare is ‘now’; ‘now in the time of this mortal life’.
Advent isn’t about tomorrow but today. About whether we are ready to greet God; to open our hearts and lives to the presence that is our one true hope – but, also, a presence that never simply leaves us as we are.
In the couple of weeks that I’ve been here I’ve been reminded how this space offers to many the chance to meet with God.
Like a Russian doll it holds story, within story within story. It is shaped and marked by those whose experience of God, even centuries ago, continues to bear witness in stone and glass; word and song. It tells of the end time and it speaks of today.
Last week Chris and I went out for a drink in one of the pubs on Goodramgate. We got chatting with some people on the next table who were visiting from Derby for the weekend.
One of the group spoke about their friend who, following a bereavement, happened to be in York and visited the Minster.
As a result his life was changed. Something happened here. And as his friend put it:
“He went in alone, but he walked out with God”
Advent is about being as prepared as we can be for that experience. It’s about being open enough to recognise God when the Holy Spirit enters our lives.
I hope that in this season of Advent we all take time to ask God how we can be ready for that encounter. How we can be ready, and how we help others to be open to that experience.
This isn’t the season of passive waiting. It is the season of searching and striving – of active anticipation. The picture Jesus paints is of God breaking into the world. The thief who steals our illusions and helps us see ourselves, and those around us, as people already loved beyond measure.
This magnificent building does not contain God. It points to God, even as Advent points to the love which is at the heart of our faith.
Our task, our calling, is to be ready and alert for every moment when this love breaks into the world.
Like the night watch scanning the horizon for the first glimmer of day, we are asked to wait eagerly for each and every sign of God’s presence in the world; and proclaim to those around us that the night has ended.
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