Today, on this Second Sunday in Advent we were delighted to be able to hold worship again for the first time in weeks.
As part of our service we listened to the opening verses of the Gospel of St Mark. As the words unfolded we were introduced to one of the most significant men in the account of the life of Jesus Christ: John the Baptist. This larger than life man is the character who introduces Jesus in each of the Gospels and cannot be ignored as we progress through this season of Advent.
Jesus would later seek out this man, this herald, and ask to be baptised by him, such was his importance in the story of the Son of God.
John is described as calling out in the wilderness, or the desert – shouting to anyone who would hear and listen to him, informing them to prepare themselves for the coming of the Lord.
Like us, John was waiting.
Last week, in our Gospel reading, we were reminded to stay awake, to be alert. Today we were given an example of what that staying awake and alert actually looks like.
As far as I can see, there are two main ways in which we can wait for anything: passively, doing very little, or actively, making things happen as we wait.
Over the course of the past year we have all had little option but to enter into extended periods of waiting.
Waiting for the lockdown to come to an end, waiting for life to return to any kind of normality, waiting for a test to be designed, waiting for results once we’ve had one, waiting for the vaccine which is promised.
So many things to wait for, so much time on our hands. And the waiting has not ended. It continues and in amongst all the other things we are waiting for, we are now in the period of Advent, a time of preparation and waiting for the coming of Christ.
Advent is not a time to be passive, it is not meant to be a dormant time of waiting, it is a time to be active, to put our lives in order, to make ourselves ready.
The waiting we have endured over the past months seems like it has gone on forever and it seems like it will last forever.
But we were also reminded this morning, by St Peter, that with the Lord, a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a day. The counting and registering of time is a manmade concept.
But, let’s go back to the John the Baptist, waiting in the desert. Do you think he knew for even one minute the day, the month or even the year that Christ would come? No! He had no idea! There was no mass communication (to quote Tim Rice and Lloyd Weber) at that time, or in the land of Palestine.
John may not have known the hour, but he did know that the Lord was coming and that things would change when He did. And so he set about making sure that other people knew it also and were prepared for it.
He didn’t just sit in the desert and wait, he was an active participant in waiting. He made things happen and people flocked to him because of this.
The question and challenge for us all on this Second Sunday in Advent is, what kind of ‘waiters’ are we?
Are we passive, do we just sit and expect God to be there for us, to come to us without any contribution on our part? That’s the easy way isn’t it? To just wait and see?
But you know, it’s also the way that drags us down. If you sit and do nothing all day, how do you feel? Do you feel energised? Do you feel ready to face whatever challenges come your way?
I wonder how you feel if you just spend a day doing nothing. For the most part I would say that if I sit and do nothing I actually end up feeling even more tired and less motivated to do anything! My energy levels drop and I find myself ending the day having achieved very little.
But, if I am active and busy, and determined to make things happen, however small those things might be – writing a letter, or a message to somebody, phoning somebody, doing something practical in the house, then my energy levels stay high and I finish my day feeling contented and accomplished.
And in the process, it’s very likely that I’ve passed on some of that positive, active energy to somebody else.
This is exactly what John the Baptist was doing. He didn’t actually know what effect he was having, he didn’t have the answers to the when and where of Christ’s arrival. But he believed. He believed in enough in the message pf the coming of the Messiah to actively do something which not only kept his inner flame alight, but lit the flame within others – look how many came to him – we are told – the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem!
If we ever needed to be convinced that active waiting is what God wants from us, then here it is!
As we journey on through this waiting time of Advent maybe we can all make a commitment to be active in our faith, rather than passive. Let us be the voice in the wilderness of 2020, the voice that spreads the love we receive.
And as Christmas approaches let us be the heralds of the hope, comfort and joy to come. Amen