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The Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe

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Antidotes - and Antivirtues

Series: Sermons for an Isolated Advent

Category: Bishop's Sermons

Speaker: The Rt Rev Mark D.W. Edington

Tags: advent, patience, waiting, impatience, antidote

November 29, 2020    The First Sunday of Advent

Saint James’ Church, Florence, Italy

Text: Isaiah 64:1: “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down...”

Over the past week I have taken up my annual discipline of reviewing the past year. It’s not that I have forgotten that December hasn’t even begun yet; it is that today is the first day of a new church year, the First Sunday of Advent, and so, for me at least, this is the best time to do the work of prayerful review of the twelve months gone before. I commend this practice to you as well; do it now, before the New Year’s Resolution rush.

You can well imagine that not a lot in the past year went as I had thought would. I suppose that is true for you as well. But wouldn’t you just know it—last year, on this very Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, I was standing, of all places, in this place—right here, in Saint James’s. And in case you don’t remember, because I didn’t either, here is what I said to you:

“I am here to warn you, as your pastor, that whatever is coming, whenever God begins a new thing it surely means there will be challenge, and change, and plenty of surprises.”

Well, my beloved friends, you can’t say you weren’t warned.

I have been preaching long enough to know deep in my bones the message I am supposed to offer you today is a message about expectation and preparation. Most of you have been going to church long enough to be tuned in for that wavelength today. Today we are beginning our season of great expectation looking forward to the coming of the promised Messiah on Christmas night.

Watch and wait, Jesus teaches us today. Watch and wait. That’s the preparation part—get ready for what is coming. 

But you know, these long months of lockdowns and red zones have really drained me of any interest in waiting.
All we have done since March has been to wait. 

We have waited for a path out of this dark time, we have waited for the chance to see each other’s faces again, we have waited for this awful fear we feel about this randomly destructive disease to stop turning us into fearful people.

When I was very young, my father would come home from work sometime in the middle of December with a Christmas tree, and it would go up in the front room of our house. And then, mysteriously, wrapped packages would appear under the tree. And some of them had labels on them making it absolutely clear that they were for me.

And then... well, then, I had to wait. I had to wait because for some reason you could not open Christmas presents until Christmas, even though they were clearly labeled for you. And my mother would explain to me that Advent was our season of expectation, and expectation means waiting—waiting until the promise was fulfilled, and the baby was born in Bethlehem.

So as far as I was concerned, Advent was the season of delayed gratification. Advent was the season of interminable waiting. Advent was four weeks of teaching me every day that patience is a virtue.

Well, maybe. But this year, I am not so sure.

We are so hoping for an antidote to this terrible disease that has caused so many deaths, and disrupted so many lives, and destroyed so many livelihoods. We know it is coming, that it is just on the horizon. Patience may be a virtue, but at least when it comes to the antidote we may be feeling a little anti-virtuous.

All this pent-up waiting we have been living with has been magnified here at Saint James. Even while all this trouble and turmoil has been going on around us, your faithful, devoted Vestry kept at its work of searching for our next priest. And once they found him, we had to wait again—wait to find out when he could come. 

Well, now we know that—he will arrive on December 23. Richard’s Advent will be nearly as long as our Lord’s. But we will have nearly as much joy at his arrival as we will have for the coming of Christmas.

Even so, we are still waiting. We are tired of waiting. We are tired of making preparations. We are tired of being worried. Those words of Isaiah speak right to our condition: “Oh that you would tear open the heavens and come down!”

Yes, come now! Come now, vaccine! Come now, justice! Come now, peace on earth! Come now, righteousness!

It’s not wrong for us to feel impatient. It’s not wrong for us to be tired of waiting. But a great deal depends on what we do with our restlessness, our agitation.

We can waste that energy on frivolities. We can invest that energy indulging in anger, or in suspicion, or in doubts, or in what a wise old prayer calls “the luxury of hurt feelings.”

Or we can invest our energy wisely—in doing all we can, where we can, to get this broken world ready for what is coming.

Because here is the news about Advent, brothers and sisters. Advent is not about waiting for something you already know. Advent is not about waiting for the vaccine. Advent is not really about waiting for Christmas. Advent is not even about waiting for Father Richard.

Advent is about knowing God once fulfilled the promise of coming to live among us in Jesus, and that God will fulfill once again a promise made to us—the promise that Christ will return in glory, that we will see the Son of Man coming with “power and great glory.” 

That is what we are waiting for. We are waiting for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ—words Saint Paul wrote many years after Jesus had been born. We are waiting for the coming of righteousness, for an end to all this sorrow and confusion. We are not waiting for a vaccine; we are waiting for the vindication of the Way of Love by the Prince of Peace.

Now, that is something worth waiting for. That is something worth getting ready for. There is every good reason for us to set aside our virtuous patience, set aside the works of darkness, put on the armor of light, and start working to make this house ready, make our hearts ready, for that day—because God is faithful, and whether we are ready or not, it is coming. Amen.