In Advent we are waiting for the coming of the Lord, as Emmanuel, God with us, and also as our King returning in glory at the end of time. Advent is a time when we prepare for this coming; we make ourselves ready. And, as we do not know the day nor the hour, we learn to be patient. “Patience is a virtue.” That’s a phrase I remember from the dim and distant past when I was being taught how to drive a bus. I was, among other things, a bus driver before I became a priest. My driving instructor was an old Dutchman with a repository of sayings like “patience is a virtue.” He illustrated that saying by relating the story of a Japanese visitor who once asked why was everyone so respectful to the bus drivers. What do you mean? he was asked. “Well,” the Japanese man replied, “every time the bus comes to a stop everyone bows to the driver.”
Patience is a virtue. We need patience while we are waiting for God. That’s what time is for. Perhaps it is like waiting for a bus – you can’t make it arrive any sooner by jumping up and down. You may as well get used to waiting. But try to be a little pro-active in your waiting. Invite God to spend the time with you. Look forward and look back. Think about the time you have spent this year – what you have done, those closest to you, and ask for God’s blessing upon all that is and all that has been.
Don’t wait for free time to do this – God is not someone who conveniently fills up the vacant spaces in our lives. This is always the challenge for those of us who are busy. It’s a question of priorities – there’s always work, and there’s always God. So spend some time with God and then spend some time working. After a while you will begin to notice that these two separate activities will merge into one. When that happens, you are moving forward on your journey of faith.
Spending time with God – that’s what we’re doing here. We are joining in the worship that is continually going on in heaven. We aren’t doing this by ourselves. The whole company of heaven join us as we sing together, “Holy, holy, holy…” It’s the same with prayer: we are praying to God as God prays within us. He is looking for somewhere to make his home, both in the church as a building and place of worship and within each individual who offers themselves to God in humility. And God, who is loving, will not spurn a heart that is offered to him.
We are all different, and our individual stories and encounters with the God will not be the same. It would all be rather boring if it were. We need only to read the lives of the saints to see how varied are the ways in which God touches the lives of his faithful. While we worship as a congregation, as a group, we also experience a personal relationship with God, mediated through his son Jesus Christ.
This is because we follow not an ideology but a person – therefore our faith must be personal. It must relate to Jesus. It means that every part of our lives – physical, emotional, material, spiritual – is capable of becoming absorbed into Christ’s life. And if that is true, then every part of life is able to be blessed, regardless of what we may think about it, of how we may view the past, for example. By the way, this is true as much as for a church as it is for individuals within the church.
A life rich in blessings – isn’t this something we all wish for? But do you really believe it? I have to be honest with you – being a Christian doesn’t get you out of experiencing the same difficulties and tragedies and disappointments as everyone else. It’s not like having a “Get out of Gaol Free” card. But the blessings are there, if we can learn to see them. I know we want them, like Christmas presents, to come wrapped in shiny paper, and instead God wraps them in something like sandpaper. But blessings are there, if we look for them.
Here’s an example: on 18 April 1908 an earthquake destroyed most of San Francisco. It flattened the walls of millions of homes, yet it was to have a profound impact on the Catholic social activist Dorothy Day. While lamenting the death and destruction it brought, she also noticed something else: the earthquake had knocked down the boundaries that separated people from each other. She wrote, “While the crisis lasted, people loved each other. It was as though they were united in Christian solidarity. It makes one think of how people could, if they would, care for each other in times of stress, unjudgingly in pity and love.” Dorothy Day spent her life trying to recapture the sense of real and spontaneous community she felt then, and would strive to reform the world around her so as to make such community possible.
A sense of God’s blessing is part of my current experience. As you know, soon I will be leaving Luton and my life is about to change radically. It is an emotional time for me: moving, leaving a job I love, leaving behind people I love. It is both an ending and a new beginning. I have many feelings mixed up inside me right now, but an unexpected one is that of becoming more and more aware of God’s blessings.
Let me describe it like this: I am standing on a beach, with the sand under my feet, at the water’s edge. The sun is shining. I look down at the sand. Then the tide rolls in, and the water covers my feet and the sand. When the water retreats, the sun lights on the sand kissed by the water and everything is glistening. Also, I have sunk a little deeper into the sand.
Here’s what it means: the beach is Marsh Farm, and the water is God’s blessing, which comes in with the tide. When the tide retreats, the sun, who is Jesus, has transformed the sand into light reflecting his glory. We don’t have to imagine this happening at Marsh Farm because it is happening already, especially for those who have offered themselves to God in humility. They are being slowly absorbed into Christ’s own life. Remember that where Christ is, there God’s blessing is. There is nowhere his blessing cannot be received. I believed that before I came to Marsh Farm and I believe it still.
This Advent allow yourself a little time with God and ask for his blessing. Bring before him your hopes and fears for the future. Rest in his peace. Then try to find the blessings in your own life. He is rich in mercy and waits for your prayer. Soon he will come again. May his coming transform you, and bring light and hope into your life.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Father David Beresford